Springfield, Strath Haven bidding for final

With the compression of the spring season, first impressions can easily become lasting conclusions that don’t rate a second look.

So at 1-5, the lazy observer could’ve written off Springfield as experiencing a rebuilding season after last year’s District One title, as is inevitable for most programs.

By the end of the regular season, qualms about the Cougars should’ve been dispelled. But if any lingered, surely the capper to the schedule would’ve emphatically banished them.

That 9-8 overtime win over Upper Dublin May 12 didn’t just foreshadow the Cougars’ postseason run back to the PIAA tournament and District One semifinals. It also sets the stage for a stirring subplot to Tuesday’s semi against the Cardinals.

The No. 10 seed Cougars (15-6) square off with No. 3 Upper Dublin (20-2) in the second semifinal at West Chester Henderson at 7 p.m. Preceding that is the collision of top-seeded Avon Grove (17-1) with No. 5 Strath Haven (17-4).

Let’s follow the head-to-head matchups: Springfield beat Upper Dublin, only UD’s second loss, the first inflicted by Avon Grove, 6-5. Avon Grove’s only loss came in the opener to No. 2 Spring-Ford, which Upper Dublin beat and which Springfield topped in the quarterfinals after losing to the Rams, 15-3, in the regular season.

That would seem to enter Springfield into this round-robin of favorites, as much as having 14 wins in their last 15 outings has.

There are sizeable caveats that must be taken in those head-to-heads. For one, Upper Dublin was without its top defender, Jack Rapine, in the May 12 encounter. Spring-Ford’s top attackman, Jake Hvazda, was injured Saturday when Springfield claimed a 10-7 win.

But that doesn’t diminish the fact that the Cougars have taken gigantic steps this season. They have one of the best goalies around in James Spence, a pair of lockdown defenders in Pat Smyth and long-stick midfielder Zac Methlie and a commitment to team defense that seems as tailored to muting Upper Dublin’s suite of attackers as much as any unit can be.

All-American Michael Sowers is the focal point of an attack that has been held to single digits just three times, but as Garnet Valley saw, a member of the supporting cast like Evan Scott, Michael Vernacchio or Michael Mullen (the latter with five goals in a 11-7 win over GV) can prove decisive.

That marquee game shouldn’t overshadow the opener, which features a feisty Strath Haven, which has secured a berth in its first state tournament in the PIAA era. Jeffrey Conner scored three goals, including the game-tying tally and the game-winner with 30 seconds left, to best No. 4 Shanahan, 6-5, in the quarters. They’ll get the Red Devils, back in the state tournament for the first time since losing in the 2014 PIAA final to Penncrest.

Garnet Valley is the only team to score more than 10 goals on Avon Grove, though Conestoga got close in an 11-9 loss in the quarters. Only four teams have scored more than five goals against Avon Grove this season.

The Panthers, with strong goalkeeping from Will Brake and two matchup defenders in Anders Camp and LSM Noah Frantz, are comfortable in low-scoring affairs, particularly when Hunter Mazur can control the faceoff X. Hvazda’s injury casts a pall over Spring-Ford’s playback semi with Garnet Valley (7 p.m. at Spring-Ford). The Jaguars, hoping to make their first states appearance since 2013, must beat the Rams, then the Shanahan-Conestoga winner in Thursday’s fifth-place game for the fifth and final playoff spot.

Springfield and Upper Dublin are the only teams to crack double-digits against the Rams (10 goals each), who are able to control possession with the dual faceoff threats of Matthew Dellacroce and Justin Schwenk. The Jags, with Denny Nealon and Matt Moore orchestrating, prefer a more run-and-gun style, and whichever team imposes its will should have the upper hand.

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