Fitz’s heroics, Cooney’s strike help Springfield-Montco stun Wissahickon

SPRINGFIELD TWP >> In any soccer game, there’s always a moment for each team that helps spell their fortunes for the day.

Thursday, in a steady rain, Springfield Township’s moment came with just 2:41 left in the game. Wissahickon meanwhile, probably needed a third hand just to count every instance where the day could have been had. It’s a game for opportunists and Thursday was the day for the Spartans.

A heads-up play by freshman Emily Cooney provided the lone goal as Springfield upset the Trojans, 1-0.
“It feels really good,” Cooney said. “I’m just really excited that we won.”

That the result came just two days after a gut-wrenching loss to Upper Dublin where the Cardinals scored with 30 seconds left in double overtime only made the win better. Junior goalkeeper Katie Fitz was again heroic in net for Springfield (5-3, 5-3 SOL), making 14 saves to preserve the shutout.

That followed a 16-save outing against Upper Dublin and the junior keeper was called upon often against the Trojans as well. After finishing with 30 total saves against the top two teams in the SOL American, Fitz wasn’t willing to take all the credit for her effort between the woodwork.

“It feels amazing, we really played our hearts out,” Fitz said. “It was a lot of pressure but I couldn’t have done it without my defenders, they’ve really helped a lot. Lindsey Smith in the back, Julie Kelly, Sam Wynne, they all supported me a lot. It was hard to read today because it was wet, but we pulled through and I’m proud of them.”

Wissahickon (6-2-1, 6-1-1 SOL American) came in tied with Upper Dublin for the conference lead and boasts an impressive array of talent, headlined by marquee midfielder Maddie Elwell. A junior who is verbally committed to Vanderbilt, Elwell was dangerous all game, creating chance after chance for Wissahickon.

But even as the versatile midfielder sent a barrage of corner kicks, crosses, looping balls off the wing and shots in at Fitz and her defenders, the Trojans seemed destined not to put any of them away.

“(Springfield) played with guts and spirit and they kept us honest the whole game,” Wiss coach Shannon Franke said. “It was just most unlucky game. I can’t count the number of times the ball rolled across the goal line and not over the goal line. We’re going to have to regroup and evaluate what we have to do.”

From the outset of the game, Wissahickon was on the attack, with sparkplug forward Krysta Memis and Elwell putting some early pressure on. Trojans holding midfielder Gabby Unipan also turned in a strong performance with both her passing and ball-winning defensively and distance shooting on offense.

The difference maker in the first half was Fitz and her defense, notably Smith at center back. Only a sophomore, Fitz is by default the back line’s leader with three freshmen flanking her. Yet, Smith played like an older player Thursday, making a tremendous recovery run in the first half to stop a marauding Elwell near the box.

“Maddie Elwell is a threat to us every year, she fights hard, she plays hard and she’s physically stronger than a lot of girls but our girls knew how to shut them down by not diving in and taking their time,” Springfield coach Suzette Wolf said. “Some of the other girls on their team, we shut down as well so I was impressed with that. Coming off a loss to them our first game of the season, we were a little apprehensive but we made some changes and rose to the occasion today.”

Wissahickon kept pushing after halftime while its backline kept Springfield in check. Anchored by central defender Mary Matthews, Wissahickon’s defense matched hard-working Springfield attackers Molly Dugan, Grace Barraclaugh and Liz Neifert and held the Spartans to just three shots on goal.

Even as the Trojans seemed like they were closing on a goal, Fitz seemed to get stronger. Even in a steady rainfall, the Spartans keeper had firm hands, not allowing rebounds or second efforts. Coming into her own this year, Fitz rose to the challenge this week.

“She was a second player to our goalie last year so she didn’t mature as a goalie until this year and she’s done it midseason,” Wolf said. “Every game is her game and she’s started to control that box. In the beginning of the season we couldn’t get her off her line. Starting Tuesday, Katie came off her line and it changed the dynamic of our game.”

That maturation has also stretched off the field. Given the nature of Tuesday’s loss, Fitz wanted to make sure her defenders were confident going up against a second straight challenging foe.

“We were more confident today,” Fitz said. “We weren’t expected to win or even go into double overtime with Upper Dublin or expected to win today. So we just had a lot of confidence boosting yesterday.”

Fitz was at her best in the last throes of the game, making a reflex palm save on Talia Abrahams close-range shot. Just after Cooney scored, the goalkeeper responded with a dramatic double-save, stuffing another close shot then smothering the ball on the foot of Mady Foglia to hold the lead in the final minutes.

Almost fittingly, Cooney’s breakthrough came on the same net Upper Dublin had scored on to win Tuesday. A corner kick swung into the area where the Wiss keeper blocked it, only to have the ball drop to the waiting freshman.

“I was on the penalty spot waiting for the corner kick to go,” Cooney said. “Something happened where the goalie fell and I saw it at her feet so I thought might as well kick it and it went in. I was pretty happy.”

Wissahickon knows it’s not out of the American race yet, not with Upper Dublin coming to them on Oct. 19 for Wiss senior night. While the generated enough chances to win, Franke felt the loss might be what her squad needed.

“With the talent we have I really believe we’ll bounce back the way we need to,” Franke said. “I think this will be the bite that we’ve been missing a little bit of this season. If this doesn’t give them the kick in the pants they need, nothing will.”

Cooney said with such a young team, the Spartans have just gone out and played this year and haven’t been burdened with expectations. But after two strong showings, and a big win, she added they’re feeling plenty confident and thinking about pushing for a second straight playoff bid.

“We don’t have playoffs yet and it’s anyone’s game but we have a better chance now,” Fitz said. “It’s the main goal of the whole season for us now, to get to playoffs.”

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