Springfield’s defense smothers Ridley in victory

SPRINGFIELD — In complete control in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, Springfield’s substitution box was an unusually crowded place.

As Ridley powered up the field after a rare turnover, you could see two or three defensive midfielders, after 40-some minutes of exertion, clamoring and crawling over each other to get on the field. To play defense.

That kind of effort typified Tuesday’s 13-4 drubbing of Central League rival Ridley, and it exemplifies the mentality coach Tom Lemieux has worked hard to instill in his Cougars.

“Coach always tells us about everyone buying in and playing defense,’ long-stick midfielder Zach Methlie said. “Even the offensive mids practice defense more than anyone because they need more reps. Guys are just hungry to get on the field and play defense anyway they can.’

The hunger manifested itself in a smothering effort that kept normally explosive Ridley to just over a third of its season scoring average. It started in midfield with the physicality of Methlie and Adam Krauter, and extended through a rock-solid backline of Dave Wasson, Jake Crowther and Pat Smyth that kept the Green Raiders (8-4, 4-3) off the board in the second and fourth quarters.

Part of it was exploiting the edge introduced by Springfield’s grass field, a surface most teams aren’t used to playing on, to win the groundball battle. The nuance of the field, though, shouldn’t diminish what Methlie was able to do on the ground, helping Dworkin, just returning to action after a collarbone injury, overturn a sluggish first half to break even at the X with Cade Heverly.

“A lot of teams don’t know the way the ball bounces out here,’ Methlie said. “People think it’s going to go farther, and it doesn’t, especially like teams that are really used to playing on their turf. Everyone hates playing on this grass field, but this is our field. We love it.’

“Groundballs have always been our struggle, especially on the grass fields because we’re usually on turf,’ said Ridley attackman Devon Tavani. “But that’s no excuse for our groundball game. We have to get better and better at that.’

The solidity in front of goaltender James Spence, who made 14 saves in an understatedly sure-handed performance, fed a cycle that the sophomore goalie often finds a way to perpetuate. The organized defense forced Ridley into low-percentage shots that Spence gobbled up, which allowed Spence to settle in between the pipes. And when Spence is locked in, few are better.

While the final score didn’t convey the necessity, Spence impressed while the game was close. In the waning seconds of the first half, he made three rapid-fire saves on Nick and Nolan Fox, finishing the half with nine stops and backstopping a 7-2 lead.

“When he’s in the zone, it’s great to play with him,’ Smyth said. “You just know that even if you do leave him out to dry, he’s going to make a great stop.’

The defense provided a platform for the Springfield attack to click like it hasn’t all season. The 13 goals are one short of a season-high, but considering the gulf in ability between Ridley and winless Upper Darby, which allowed the 14 goals last week, Tuesday’s was easily the more impressive performance.

Leading the scoring parade was Lucas Spence, who exploded for a season-high six goals to go with two assists. Dan Wasson added three goals and three helpers, and Mike Gerzabek struck twice in the latest evidence of the maturation of the Cougars (7-3, 4-3).

Beset by injuries through the early going, including an illness that slowed the two-time All-Delco Spence, that delayed an overhaul necessitated by graduation, things are finally starting to fall into place.

And the results, as Spence can attest, are fun.

“Our first three losses were just one-goals games, just us learning how to figure out how to finish a game,’ he said. “I think we’re finally pulling it together. People don’t want to play us anymore.’

They left no doubt in that regard Tuesday. Bill Rouse’s tally with 1:42 left in the first quarter got Ridley to within 3-2, but Springfield rattled off four straight goals in the second to take a commanding lead. Lucas Spence had a hand in three of the tallies, dishing assists to Gerzabek and Wasson around a goal by Nick Martin that came off a rebound of a Spence shot.

Tavani scored up a man 51 seconds into the second half, threatening to get Ridley back in the game, but Spence (off a phenomenal cross-crease feed from Kyle Long) and Dan Wasson offered a quick riposte that the defense ensured was plenty.

“At the start of the season, we had a lot of great individual players on defense but we didn’t really put it all together,’ Smyth said. “But now we’re starting to put it all together and play as a unit, and it shows in the scores.’


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