By Matt Chandik
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 3/28/17
A younger, more immature Tommy Sopko probably would have stopped shooting after his first few attempts didn’t produce in Tuesday’s Central League opener against defending PIAA champion Springfield-Delco.
“I was able to get my shot off a lot, but it just wasn’t sticking,” said Sopko. “In years past, I’d get a little more frustrated. I just have to keep shooting and know that goalies are playing well and everybody’s going to miss some shots.
“It’s something that my coaches work with me a lot, just making sure I keep my head up and get the next shot.”
Sopko first scored late in the first quarter, and once he got warmed up, he was good to go. He posted his second consecutive four-goal, two-assist performance as the Conestoga throttled the Cougars, 11-6, at Teamer Field. That came on the heels of a 13-12 overtime win against MIAA power Calvert Hall, a game in which Sopko tallied the game-winner.
So yeah, things are going well for the Bucknell signee and his Pioneer teammates.
“I’m just sticking with it, taking my shots and trying to be more of an athlete,” Sopko said of his hot start. “Early on in the game when we were testing them, they didn’t slide too quickly when you came from X, so I was able to get my hands open after getting around from goal line extended.”
The Pioneers (2-0, 1-0 Central League) raced out to a 6-0 lead thanks to goals from five goal scorers, including Sopko, Henry Berg, Joey Walton, Nick Braendel and Cliff Madden. Springfield (0-2, 0-1) never had the chance to bounce back because of James Reilly’s dominance at the faceoff X. The Georgetown commit was dominant, claiming 16 of 19 wins, including nine straight after losing the game’s opening draw. He set up Walton’s tally six seconds after Berg’s score-opening goal, which served as a huge jolt for Conestoga.
“The first one was a warmup one, I guess,” Reilly said with a smile. “I had to get into a groove and after that, winning every faceoff helped us. We’ve seen some of the hardest competition we’re going to see all year, so if we can hang through this, the rest of the year is going to be uphill but we know that we’ve done it before. We’ve faced teams with offensive threats, defensive threats, best goalies in the state, so we’ve faced a lot in the first two games.”
Conestoga is hot right now, although asking Sopko to average six points a game or Reilly to win 84 percent of his faceoffs for the duration of the season might be unsustainable. Scott MacMillan was strong in goal, too, tossing aside eight shots. At the same time, there aren’t any trophies handed out for great play in March, and nobody can attest to that better than Springfield-Delco can.
In 2015, Tom Lemieux’s Cougars were 0-2 and 3-2, then finished with a 19-5 mark and a District 1 title. Last year, they stumbled to a 1-5 start, then went on a torrid 19-2 stretch and downed La Salle for the state title. There’s plenty of talent there — Cardinal O’Hara transfer Mike Tulskie sniped a hat trick and Maryland commit Kyle Long set up three goals and scored another — surrounding James Spence, considered by all followers as one of the the best goalies in the state and into the Mid-Atlantic region. There’s a lot for Springfield to work on, but it’s far from time to hit the panic button.
“One thing I definitely think we need to work on is our starts,” said Spence, a Lehigh signee. “These last two games, we’ve been getting off to really slow starts in the first quarter (getting outscored by a combined 9-0 mark). A lot of defense, a lot of miscommunication and not talking.
“I think it’s tough because everyone wants to beat Springfield. Everyone wants to beat the reigning state champion, but we have to embrace that and leave that behind because that’s not who we are this year. The 2017 team is a completely different team and we have to prove ourselves to everyone.”