Spring­field gets a-Long just fine with­out its in­jured star

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

RAD­NOR » Alyssa Long opened up to chase a ground­ball in the first minute of play Thurs­day after­noon, then pulled up in pain at mid­field. Her Spring­field team­mates knew then — as the star mid­fielder who’d missed the bet­ter part of the last month with a ham­string strain and was only cleared for a re­turn to ac­tion this week, hob­bled off the field in tears — that they’d have to tackle the chal­lenge of Con­estoga in the sec­ond round of the Dis­trict 1 Class 3A tour­na­ment with­out her.

“It’s hard be­cause she’s such a big part of our mid­field, tak­ing the ball from the de­fen­sive end to the of­fen­sive end,” team­mate Dana Carlson said. “We had to kind of ad­just to it. It was hard see­ing her walk off.”

As if to prove just how dif­fi­cult it would be, the sec­ond-seeded Cougars took most of the first half to sort out the ro­ta­tion with­out the dy­namic Long, spot­ting Con­estoga a three-goal lead in the process. Along the way, though, they sum­moned the re­solve to flour­ish with­out her, then hang on as the 18th-seeded Pi­o­neers (a stag­ger­ing in­dict­ment of the dis­trict’s seed­ing sys­tem if ever one there was) gave them their best shot late.

Carlson scored five goals, and Erin Gorm­ley picked up much of the slack for her fel­low sopho­more Long in mid­field to key an 11-10 win for the Cougars in a bat­tle of Cen­tral League elites at Cabrini Univer­sity.

Spring­field (16-3) ad­vances to the quar­ter­fi­nals to take on No. 7 seed Down­ing­town East, a 13-6 win­ner over Cen­tral Bucks East Thurs­day. Con­estoga (12-8), which had beaten Spring­field 13-11 in their reg­u­lar-sea­son meet­ing, sees its sea­son end shy of states.

The re­sponse to Long’s exit had to be in­stan­ta­neous against an op­po­nent as strong as Con­estoga, ir­re­spec­tive of the seed­ing for a team in the state’s tough­est league with a daunt­ing non­league slate. And for a mo­ment it seemed that Spring­field found the coun­ter­point via Gorm­ley. Two and a half min­utes into the game, she scooped a ground­ball near her crease and jet­ted the length of the field to tie the game at one, mo­men­tar­ily quelling the emo­tion of Long’s exit.

“We have to think about what we had to do on de­fense, who we were go­ing to put back there and what mid­fielder was go­ing to go back there if we were go­ing to do a four-man mid­die (af­ter Long left),” Gorm­ley said. “We get re­ally ner­vous when we lose her be­cause she’s a big fac­tor to our team and re­ally con­trib­utes to our team a lot. It’s a strug­gle with­out her, but we ad­just re­ally well and all work to­gether through it.”

Con­estoga coun­tered, and by the time Cameron Evitts fired home her sec­ond goal of the game with 13:08 un­til half­time, the Pi­o­neers led 5-2.

“We were all just re­ally pumped up,” Evitts said. “Dur­ing prac­tice, every­thing, we were all cheer­ing each other on, giv­ing each other great mo­ti­va­tional speeches, pump­ing each other up be­fore the game and yes­ter­day, we came off a re­ally big win, and it was just mo­ti­vat­ing to all of us and we were re­ally con­fi­dent in our­selves as a whole.”

That would be the last goal the Cougars would al­low for the next 23:03, as Spring­field’s big guns made their pres­ence felt.

Carlson got it started with two firsthalf goals. Spring­field didn’t let the deficit dis­suade them from their usual of­fen­sive pa­tience, me­thod­i­cally work­ing through sets to find the right at­tack. Of­ten, that was call­ing Carlson’s num­ber, her curl­ing runs around the right side of the cage giv­ing Con­estoga fits all day. One such ris­ing shot 22 sec­onds into the sec­ond half put the Cougars on level terms.

Carlson isn’t the quick­est or long­est at­tacker, but she makes that dart­ing run work with a canny knack for de­vis­ing the per­fect an­gle to dis­rupt a goalie’s read.

“I just have to watch the de­fense and make sure I know what their position is to see if I’m able to do what I usu­ally do,” Carlson said.

Olivia Lit­tle and Belle Mas­tropi­etro pro­vided two goals and an as­sist each, all of Mas­tropi­etro’s con­tri­bu­tions in the sec­ond half. She also won seven draws, while Lit­tle pock­eted four to per­pet­u­ate Spring­field’s momentum. Mas­tropi­etro’s first goal capped a 7-0 run, putting the Cougars up 8-5 with 16:31 left.

The de­fense, mar­shaled by Emma O’Con­nor, gave the at­tack room to op­er­ate. Goalie Ai­dan Gal­lagher made three saves, two on sec­ond-half free position shots, and the Cougars con­trolled the bat­tle on the ground.

“Def­i­nitely in the first half, we no­ticed that they were beat­ing us in tran­si­tion,” O’Con­nor said. “So we thought we had to def­i­nitely mark our girls more when they’re com­ing down the field, make sure we talk more with each other.”

From there, the Cougars were content to trade goals, but Con­estoga wasn’t out of fight. Carlson’s fourth ex­tended the lead to four at 11-7 with 8:09 left, but Stoga charged back, aided by four straight DCs. Ju­lia Lit­tle­wood, who like Evitts tal­lied three goals and two as­sists, got a goal back af­ter two Spring­field turnovers. Evitts then scored off a Tessa Kerin feed be­fore find­ing Lit­tle­wood with 2:57 left.

Gorm­ley won the en­su­ing draw, though Amelia Kien­zle (two goals) caused a turnover and Evitts fired a look wide of Gal­lagher’s cage, cov­ered by the goalie for Gorm­ley to even­tu­ally run out the clock un­der duress.

With the reg­u­lar-sea­son re­venge and the con­fi­dence of tak­ing care of busi­ness with­out a key piece, the de­fend­ing PIAA run­ner-up Spring­field gets to take plenty of momentum into Satur­day’s quar­ter­fi­nals with a states berth on the line.

“We def­i­nitely miss Alyssa on the field,” O’Con­nor said. “But know­ing that we can have a great player like Alyssa not be on the field with us makes us feel more con­fi­dent in our play­ing and that we don’t have to rely on one per­son and we can suc­ceed as a team.”

PETE BAN­NAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Spring­field’s Dana Carlson fires a shot past Con­estoga de­fender Amelia Kien­zle, left, and goalie Christin Ealer for one of her five goals in the Cougars’ 11-10 Dis­trict 1 Class 3A play­off vic­tory over the Pi­o­neers Thurs­day.

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