Boys lacrosse: Through disappointment, Springfield takes heart in championship season

There were tears and hung heads as Springfield filed off A.G. Cornog Stadium Tuesday evening. But there was something more behind the initial sadness of the Cougars’ 12-5 dismissal from the PIAA Semifinals at the hands of Radnor.

This image of James Spence in Tuesday's semifinal loss isn't the lasting definition of Springfield's season. (Times Staff/ROBERT J. GURECKI)

This image of James Spence in Tuesday’s semifinal loss isn’t the lasting definition of Springfield’s season. (Times Staff/ROBERT J. GURECKI)

For whatever disappointment understandably lingered, the Cougars (19-5) also carried an underlying and undeniable sense of pride off the field. And while the journey ended one game short of where they hoped it to culminate, that does little to tarnish what was accomplished along the way.

“It’s an emotional ride,” coach Tom Lemieux said. “I think our kids did a great job of sticking with it and came out fighting every day in practice and the games. I’m just really proud of these guys.”

Putting Springfield’s loss in perspective requires context as to the challenge set out before them. To win the District One and PIAA titles back-to-back mandates nine straight victories. That’s nine consecutive, next-to-perfect outings without an easy opponent in the bunch.

Since the first-round districts win over West Chester East (the magic 29th invitee that appeared in what was originally slated as a 28-team field), the opponents have been a murderers’ row of challenges. They came back from a halftime deficit to banish Downingtown East, which they had beaten by one goal in April. They needed Kyle Long’s winner with 13 seconds left to get by Spring-Ford. The trampled Central Bucks East twice – 12-6 in the District One semifinal and 8-3 in the PIAA quarterfinal – a Patriots squad that dumped Garnet Valley into playbacks and ran all over District 11 champ Emmaus in states.

Springfield’s first PIAA opponent was by far the most daunting faced by the four District One teams in the top half of the bracket, with Dan Wasson’s goal in overtime required to outlast a talented Hershey team that had underachieved to third place in District 3.

The pattern seems well established that winning the District One title generally precludes winning a PIAA title. Avon Grove, for instance, the two-time defending district champ, lost in the finals and semifinals, respectively, the last two years to District One opposition. Surviving the deep districts field and the (slightly thinner) states gauntlet in quick succession is just so daunting that failing to do so is no shame.

Those statements don’t even detail Springfield’s unique journey. They languished at 0-2, and doubt could’ve washed away the roots of the success before they ever had a chance to take hold.

No matter how many games they won in a row (10, before a regular-season-ending loss to Upper Dublin, then the seven in the playoffs), Lemieux sought to perpetuate the underdog mantra, which befitted the hunger and tenacity with which his group played.

“A lot of people counted us out at the beginning of the year,” Lemieux said. “We surprised a lot of people. This is a special season for us. We’ve done a lot of good things and a lot of things that nobody through we would do.”

Ninety-nine percent of teams are fated to end their season on a losing note. Far fewer experience the lofty heights that Springfield ascended. If nothing else, the sadness Tuesday gave way to an appreciation of that fact.

“I’m just happy that we got to have the greatest season I’ve had so far,” senior attackman Lucas Spence said. “It’s awesome. It’s tough to be perfect, but we did our best. We faced a ton of adversity all year, and I’m proud of what we did. It sucks we couldn’t get more to get to the finals, but that happens.”

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