by Tom Utescher
The rain that persisted throughout the first Sunday of May cleared out to make way for a mostly sunny and dry Monday, more enjoyable conditions for Springside Chestnut Hill Academy to host Springfield High School for a boys’ lacrosse match.
Each team led at various points during the first two quarters, and the host Blue Devils and visiting Spartans were locked up at 5-5 for the halftime interlude. The nature of the match changed after that, with SCH scoring three times in the third quarter and then tacking on four more goals in the first seven minutes of the fourth. Springfield scored late in the last minute for a 12-6 final.
Senior Matt Bown poured in five goals for the Blue Devils, who received two apiece from junior Rex Leininger and sophomores Fitz McLaughlin and Luke Neverosky, as they raised their overall record to 9-6. Within the grueling competition seen in the Inter-Ac League, the team’s lone win came in its opener against Germantown Academy, 10-6. The Devils did have an encouraging outcome against longtime league power Haverford School, falling 13-10 after rallying from a 10-goal halftime deficit.
Springfield slipped to 8-7 with last Monday’s setback, receiving a hat trick from junior Nic Pugliese. The Spartans have to face some significantly larger public high schools with the Suburban One League’s American Conference, and their non-league schedule usually includes several Inter-Ac teams and other challenging opponents.
For the game at SCH, Springfield was missing its regular starter in goal, senior Paul Asman, so junior Caleb Jones filled in and finished with 10 saves. Senior Bern Popky made nine stops for the Blue Devils.
SCH won the opening faceoff, but Springfield got off the first shot of the game, a bouncer by junior Paul Richardson that was a little off target. More near misses followed, as Blue Devils junior Ethan Gyllenhaal hit the crossbar and the Spartans’ Trey DuBose shot into a post at the other end.
Springfield’s Pugliese was the first to find the net, slanting down to outside of the right post and shooting across the cage to score with 7:24 remaining in the first quarter. Half a minute later, a similar-looking drive by Bown tied things up for the host team.
Later in the same minute, Richardson aimed low and scored, but the game was tied again with 5:12 on the clock, as SCH’s McLaughlin came from behind the cage on the left for a successful shot. Late in the period, the visitors took the lead again and once more SCH drew even. Zach Coppol had the Springfield goal and Bown deposited his second marker for the Devils.
As the second quarter got underway, SCH went ahead for the first time on an outside shot by Leininger. A nice check by the Spartans’ Ryan Wilsbach foiled another shot, but the Blue Devils kept possession of the ball and McLaughlin made it 5-3 with 9:29 to go in the first half. Springfield called timeout, then returned to the field to maintain possession for long stretches, recovering the ball after several blocked and missed shots.
In the last five minutes, two goals by Pugliese were sandwiched around a 30-second penalty on SCH, although the teams were at even strength for both scores. The Blue Devils’ Popky stopped another shot by Pugliese, and with under 20 seconds left, Springfield’s Jones saved a shot by Gyllenhaal to keep the score at 5-5 for the intermission.
Given the way the Blue Devils pulled away from their guests in the second half, one might have assumed there were some fireworks in the SCH halftime huddle, but head coach Brian Dougherty said that nothing very dramatic occurred.
“We didn’t freak out at halftime,” he related. “We just kind of told the guys we needed to play harder. We were winning the faceoff battle, so we told them they could take control of the game if they just played a little harder and shot a little smarter.”
The SCH defense also raised its game to contain the Spartans’ attack in the second half. Dougherty said that the principal players in front of Popky all season have been juniors Ricky Amorim, Jake Carpenter and Matt Ottillo, sophomores Mason Clemens and Conor Kilfeather and freshman Henry Troy.
“I kind of challenged them at halftime,” Dougherty said. “They can play some great defense, but they didn’t do that in the first half. We looked a little sluggish; we weren’t sliding and we let guys just barge in and shoot uncontested shots. We did a good job of fixing that in the second half.”
Gyllenhaal moved the Blue Devils ahead early in the third quarter, and the count remained at 6-5 for some time. With a little under four minutes left in the third frame, Leininger isolated a defender at the top of the offense and drove past him to put in an outside shot. With the clock down to 2:35, a nice feed from Bown found Neverosky in front of the cage for the hosts’ eighth goal.
Springfield had some chances at the end of the period, but shots by Richarson and DuDose missed the cage and hit the goal frame, leaving the tally at 8-5 for the start of the fourth quarter.
A few minutes into the final round, a Bown bounce shot bumped the score to 9-5. The Spartans called timeout, but then hampered themselves by committing a penalty almost immediately after play resumed. Shortly after the teams were back even, SCH freshman Harry Sweitzer delivered the ball to Neverosky right at the front of the crease, and the Blue Devils now led 10-5 with 10:14 left to play.
Over the next five minutes, Bown fired back-to-back goals to reach his final total of five for the day.
“He’s a warrior out there,” Dougherty said. “He’s in phenomenal shape from playing soccer and squash the other two seasons. He can run all day, and we need that because we don’t play too many midfielders.”
The senior has been accepted at Villanova University (a family tradition) and may play for the Wildcats, although that’s not certain at this time.
“I think he’s one of the best midfielders in the Inter-Ac, and I’ve talked to the Villanova coaches about him,” Dougherty said. “He was accepted first as a student, and with lacrosse we’re just going to let this season finish and see where that goes.”
Springfield got in the final word in last Monday’s game, as a pass inside by Brennan Fluehr set up a goal by Richardson with 16 seconds remaining.
Nearing the end of regular season play, Dougherty was asked to comment on his players’ progress since the first preseason practices.
He responded, “Our coaching staff has done a great job on ‘skilling them up,’ as we call it. Just working on skills day in and day out, that’s the secret with lacrosse. It’s not rocket science; the guys who throw the ball against the wall and shoot buckets of balls, they get better. From the first day of practice until now, a number of our guys have improved their skills significantly.”