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SPRING SPORTS

State title has Methlie at fever pitch

WEST GOSHEN >> When Zac Methlie woke up in a sweat Monday morning, he had no energy to get out of bed. Short of a season-ending injury, this was the Springfield defender’s worst nightmare come true.

He was sick. It wasn’t something that a few tissues and cough drops could take care of, either. Methlie knew he might be dealing with the flu. Or, as it turned out, a nasty fever that overwhelmed every aching bone in his body.
Not this, he thought. Not now.

Methlie was too focused on helping Springfield capture its first PIAA boys lacrosse championship. The last thing he wanted to deal with was illness. It was the eve of the second-biggest game of his life, a semifinal against Strath Haven. He had to do whatever was necessary to be on the field, with his boys, and not let his ailing body hold him back.

James Spence, right, and the Springfield defense react after Chris Hladczuk's last-second shots goes wide in Springfield's 4-3 win over La Salle Saturday. (Digital First MEdia/Pete Bannan)

James Spence, right, and the Springfield defense react after Chris Hladczuk’s last-second shots goes wide in Springfield’s 4-3 win over La Salle Saturday. (Digital First MEdia/Pete Bannan)

“I had an upper respiratory infection … I had a fever of 102 (degrees) all week,” Methlie said. “Even during the Strath Haven game (Tuesday), I was sick. I was constantly spitting up and losing my breath. I couldn’t even get out of bed the last few days.”

He managed to get through the semifinal round … barely. If it was a nonleague game in late-March, perhaps Methlie would have told coach Tom Lemieux he needed to be in bed, eating chicken soup or something.

But Methlie slowly improved as Tuesday night turned into Wednesday. He was perhaps 50 percent by Friday, he said, and when the alarm went off Saturday morning, the fever Methlie had been hampered with for six days had subsided.

He wasn’t close to feeling 100 percent healthy; there was nothing he could do except wrap a cool towel around his neck and drink plenty of water and Gatorade.

And play.

Methlie piloted a formidable Springfield defense Saturday at West Chester East. Thanks to the gutsy play of Methlie, Pat Smyth and Pat Clemens, among others, the Cougars scratched out a 4-3 win over La Salle to claim their first PIAA state championship.

PHOTOS: Springfield’s PIAA final victory gallery

“This morning I woke up, I felt better, but my legs just really weren’t there,” Methlie said. “When we first started today, I felt it. It was tough. My legs weren’t all there, but once we got the game going, I just kept on digging in and digging in and I just forgot about it. This was more important than anything.”

For the final seven minutes of regulation, after Jared Walls scored for La Salle to trim Springfield’s lead to 4-3, that Cougars defense kept its poise. It knew when to back off and play it safe, and when to attack with two-on-ones. Smyth was a catalyst, as he had a hand in three caused turnovers in the last five minutes. Goalie James Spence made a huge save or two, and a goalie interference call enabled Springfield to run out the clock with less than a minute to go.

“Our intensity sets us apart from other defenses,” Methlie said. “We like to pack it in sometimes, but when there’s a play to be made, we make a play. James Spence made big stops, and we allowed James to see the ball, too. We didn’t let (La Salle) get too many inside shots, we forced them outside a lot. We played their strong hands pretty well, forced them to their weak hands, and forced them into making outside shots.”

That close-knit defensive crew stuck together and made certain that Springfield would go home as champions.

“No team can be successful due to individual performances. You have to play together and you got to believe in each other, especially on the defensive side,” Methlie said. “If (the other team) is setting picks and stuff, you have to trust your teammates to do the right thing and play well. That trust is one of the biggest things that kept us going this season.”

Methlie had a tough time believing that Springfield (20-7) succeeded on this long and difficult road to the state final. In April, the Cougars were a team in disarray after losing five of their first six games. Qualifying for districts — never mind the PIAA tourney — seemed impossible when nothing was going right.

“This season we started out 1-5 and people counted us out so early, and we’ve been through so much as a team. The feeling that we made it this far and got through everything … man, we did this,” he said. “It’s my senior year and it’s the best way to go out in high school.”

Methlie said he planned to rest up before a big night of celebrating at a teammate’s house. And that fever? The best prescription, it turned out, was winning it all.

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