Gerzabek sparks Springfield’s final surge to title

WEST GOSHEN — Walking off the field after a forgettable third quarter Thursday, no one on Springfield’s sideline felt lower than Mike Gerzabek.

Just 46 seconds earlier, Gerzabek had a golden look in the open field up a man to finish his hat trick and break open a tie game. Instead, he was stoned by Conestoga’s John Roulston, who outletted for Chris Brady to score with 8 ticks left in the frame and give the Pioneers their first lead of the day.

“You just have to shake it off,’ Gerzabek said. “You’re going to have your ups and downs. The game is about runs. He made a nice save, and I have to fight back and get the next one.’

When the next one floated his way 77 seconds into the fourth quarter, he made no mistake.

Gerzabek took Kyle Long’s astute skip pass and buried it past Roulston, a second goal for the Cougars in 29 seconds and the game-winning marker in Springfield’s 7-5 triumph in the District One championship game.

The win sealed the first district title for the No. 4 seed Cougars (17-4). It avenges not only a loss to No. 10 Conestoga (14-9) in the second game of the season, but also rectifies their nearest attempt at a district title, losing to the Pioneers in the final in 2010.

It’s only fitting that both halves of the winning goal represented instances of individual redemption, with the Cougars’ young attackers adjusting to exploit the stifling and physical Conestoga defense.

Gerzabek started quickly, scoring twice in the game’s first 5:30 and providing a vital spark as Conestoga sought to deny Springfield’s All-American attackman Lucas Spence the ball. Gerzabek found Spence in a rare liberated moment early in the second to grow the lead to 3-1, and the Cougars led 4-1 at half.

But up a man late in the third quarter, Gerzabek was stonewalled by Roulston in his attempt to tilt the momentum back in Springfield’s favor. As the pendulum swung, Brady made it four unanswered goals in the quarter for Conestoga (his second to go with two from Steven Hildebrand comprising the spurt) to send the Pioneers into the final frame up, 5-4.

That’s when Kyle Long awakened, too.

The freshman took time to acclimate to the Pioneers’ aggression in passing lanes, with Jack Reilly and Parke Schweiter adept at picking off passes early that Long is able to thread through less exemplary defenders.

“We saw his head go down a little bit, and we talked to him on the side, and he just came out and continued to fight and continued to make the right looks,’ Springfield coach Tom Lemieux said. “That kid’s got confidence right now. And he’s so athletic that, with confidence, he’s really, really dangerous.’

Long persevered, bouncing a pass to Dan Wasson on the doorstep for him to knot the game at 5 at 11:12. On the ensuing possession, Long dashed around the right side of the net, spotted Gerzabek on the back side and set him up to rifle home for the tally that made the difference.

“I got the groundball and I always take it through X,’ Long said. “I looked and they were subbing, and Mike was wide open. I just gave it to him and he scored.’

“Coach talks about doing the right thing and playing my role,’ Gerzabek said, “and my role is to finish when I have the ball.’

“That’s just character right there,’ Lemieux said of Gerzabek’s resilience. “That’s what we believe in, that’s what we pride ourselves on, hard work and character. And that kid was great today.’

From there, it was up to Springfield’s defense, a unit that had the burden lightened by Zach Dworkin’s 11-for-16 performance on draws and long stretches of deliberate and prudent possession by the offense.

The Cougars found themselves contending with the Conestoga attack for most of the final frame, sliding efficiently to cope with Conestoga’s off-ball movement and limiting their shots to low-percentage efforts that goalie James Spence (seven saves) was often equal to.

“We were all tired, but we knew we had to stay composed to win the game,’ said long-stick middie Zac Methlie, who also scored a goal, just his second of the season, in the second quarter. “We knew we needed a couple of stops to win the game, we kept our composure and we got it done.’

“Honestly in that situation, we were kind of on the edge of our seats,’ defensive leader Pat Smyth said. “… Everybody needed to be on the same page for those last possessions because they move off-ball like no other team we’ve played this year. Honestly, we’ve been in so many of those before, it kind of seems natural.’

Once they turned the Pioneers away, James Spence capping the lengthy possession by gobbling up an easy Sam Friedman shot, the Cougars retained possession for over a minute behind Roulston’s cage. Out of a timeout, Lucas Spence waited for the double-team, shook free and scooped home his second and Springfield’s seventh and final goal with 1:14 to play, setting off waves of celebration on the bench.

“It’s indescribable,’ Smyth said. “It feels awesome. We worked all season for this, and finally achieved our goal.’

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