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Springfield keeps its cool, defends its title

WEST GOSHEN >> Tom Lemieux called timeout with 8.6 seconds showing on the clock Saturday and his Springfield team leading West Chester Henderson by a one-goal margin that felt slimmer than usual.

With a restart looming and mere seconds separating them from a second straight PIAA title, Lemieux made sure his players were on the same page. Then he deployed them to do what they’ve done so successfully for years.

Springfield held the fort, claiming the PIAA Class 2A title over West Chester Henderson in a 9-8 decision at steamy West Chester East High School Saturday.

“We’re never under pressure,” defender Pat Clemens said. “After every goal, you see us bring it in and we’re talking it through. We know what happened. We know what we’ve got to change and we can fix it. We always knew that we could count on each other and toward the end of the game with eight seconds left, I knew I could count on my brothers.”

Saturday wasn’t a vintage defensive performance by any means by the Cougars. They allowed a 9-6 lead on Henderson to be whittled down to a single goal in the last four minutes, then withstood a troika of chances late in the game as Henderson pushed for the equalizer.

Springfield’s Joey DeBernardi, left, scored four times in powering a 9-8 Cougars win over Henderson in the PIAA Class 2A final Saturday. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

But Springfield held firm, in part thanks to the eight saves by James Spence in goal, including a fought-off denial of Brandon Moyer in the final minute.

While the defensive effort in the zone wasn’t quite as crisp as in the past, the effort elsewhere on the field remained outstanding, epitomized by the defensive effort done by the attackmen. A half-dozen times, Springfield attackers and midfielders caused turnovers with the determination of their ride-backs as Henderson tried to book in transition, busy checking sticks to ensure Henderson received nothing without effort.

That work papered over some unsightly and uncharacteristic Springfield turnovers, feeding the totality of the effort.

“It’s incredibly important. We practice every single day, rides and clears,” Clemens said. “Kyle Long, that’s a lot of effort. Coming from them, (Mike) Tulskie, (Joey) DeBernardi, without those rides, I don’t know what we would do. We get a lot of possessions back. There’s probably at least five ride backs we had today that helps us win that game.”

“It’s really important, especially when you’re playing a little bit faster and you have some more turnovers than you want, you ride it back and if you maybe get half of them back, you’re not looking as bad on the turnover category,” Long said. “But I think it’s just something our offense prides ourselves on. The attack drops, we ride as hard as we can, we try to get as many back as possible.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Springfield vs. W.C. Henderson

DeBernardi also took a star turn on offense with four goals, the junior attackman matching his jersey number. He posted a natural hat trick in the third quarter in less than two minutes of game action, staking Springfield to an 8-5 lead.

“You get into a groove,” DeBernardi said. “Kyle obviously finds me any time. I trust him. He’s going to put the pass at my ear and I just turn and shoot, hope it goes in.”

Though generally a secondary scoring option this season, DeBernardi stepped it up late. His fourth goal, at 4:46 of the third, was a sweep across the defense 10 yards from the goal that exemplified the confidence and comfort with which he played.

Springfield James Spence denies a shot by West Chester Henderson’s Matt Turse late in a 9-8 win by the Cougars in the PIAA Class 2A final Saturday. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“It definitely helps to have been here before,” DeBernardi said. “It’s obviously a very good team. You just have to buy into the system and trust your teammates. So I was confident as anything that they would have my backs no matter what happens.”

Long finished a stellar junior season with four assists. Tulskie scored twice in the first half, and Jack Spence added two goals, including the final tally with 4:42 left to put Springfield up 9-6.

Seemingly a comfortable edge, Henderson never let up to make the game interesting. Behind Luke Wierman, who won 16 of 21 draws on the night, Henderson outshot Springfield, 32-16. James Spence’s excellence in goal quelled most of that, and the penchant for forcing turnovers by Springfield’s dedicated defense made Henderson uncomfortable.

Joe Saulino ripped home a shot with 3:25 to play to claw within two. After a Springfield turnover, Matt Turse buried his fourth goal of the night with 2:45 remaining, setting up a taut finish.

But the defense stood tall, forcing a pair of wide shots and Moyer’s effort that Spence battled.

Though Saturday’s performance wasn’t exactly the domineering 4-3 performance of last year’s state final, it was still worthy of the mantle of state champion. Given the expectations they faced as the titleholders and the pressure of doubling up on their District 1 title — a 4-3 decision over Henderson two weeks ago — Saturday’s decision lives up to a place in the Springfield trophy case.

“I don’t know if it’s really sinking in yet,” Clemens said. “I can’t really compare this year to last year. We’re playing a great team like La Salle and a great team like Henderson, it’s two amazing games that come down to the wire.”

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