RADNOR >> At some point in any lacrosse tournament, the eventual champion will look back one game and be thankful for its goaltender.
For Springfield High, which outlasted Exeter Township, 9-8, in overtime in the PIAA Class AAA tournament at Radnor High, that game was Tuesday.
“I thought Aiden Gallagher,” said Cougars coach Keith Broome, in something of an exhale, “saved our butt.”
In a game substantially tighter than their first-round rout over Exeter last season, the Cougars needed three massive, game-defining saves from Gallagher in the second half to improve to 19-4 and win a spot in the second round. The sophomore keeper made critical stops with 14:10, 11:30, 10:30 and 7:22 to play in a 17-goal game in which neither team ever trailed by more than a goal.
That was enough to create sudden-victory overtime, which Erin Gormley ended with a goal at 2:27.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Broome said. “I give a lot of credit to Exeter. They really came to play.”
Olivia Little scored three goals and added an assist for the Cougars, who rebounded from their loss to Garnet Valley in the District 1 final. Dana Carlson and Gormley added two goals apiece, and Isabelle Mastropietro added a goal and an assist.
“I don’t think we played well,” Broome said. “I don’t think we played to the best of our ability. I was waiting for somebody to step up and get ahead by two goals. And we never did that. We beat them last year. But they are a better team. And their goalie made some saves at the end.”
Like Gallagher, Elli Godinez kept Exeter competitive, generating nine saves. And when Isabella Karstien scored with 2:09 left, the Eagles forced an 8-8 tie and, as it would happen, the extra time. Given that the Eagles had lost, 15-5, to the Cougars in the first round last season, that meant their 17-6 season ended in some level of satisfaction.
“I think that was a huge improvement over last year,” said Exeter coach Jill Rudy. “The girls played awesome. We played a good, solid game. We made a few mental errors at the end. But overall, I was happy with the way they played. They played unselfishly. They played together. They executed our plan. It could have gone either way.”
Kylee Hubiak and Karstien scored four goals each for Exeter, which took a 7-6 lead with 13:16 left.
“They had all their goals,” Broome said. “One had four, the other had four. So you would think we would play a little bit better defensively, closing space. But, hey, we live to play another day.”
Gallagher was a major reason.
“It’s just that once the game gets going, and once I get into it, I get the adrenaline flowing,” Gallagher said. “And then you get some big saves, and your confidence goes up.”
In a sport where the goal-scorers typically get to do the most celebrating, Gallagher had a certain urge to make her contributions at the other side of the field.
“I knew it was a big role to play,” she said. “So I liked the idea of that. And we’ve had a lot of close games lately.”
With seconds left in the first three-minute overtime period, Gormley ended one Tuesday from a free position, shooting low and to the stick side.
“That’s what I was going for,” Gormley said. “It was a good game. And our team really worked together and all came together and came out with a win.
“Every game, we get a little better. We get to know each other better. We really work together even more as the games get harder. We had a hard loss against Garnet Valley, but it made us more determined to get to the state championship and win that. I think we are capable of doing that this year.”