By Matt Chandik
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/10/17
Pat Clemens hasn’t played two full varsity seasons of lacrosse yet, but he can already be considered a grizzled veteran on Springfield-Delco’s defense.
The sophomore defenseman found himself as a rare freshman starter for the Cougars last year, and he had a huge hand in helping Springfield to a state championship. He didn’t, though, handle opponents’ top scoring threats. That task went to the likes of now-college freshmen Zac Methlie (Lehigh) and Pat Smyth (St. John’s), a job the duo handled with much aplomb. This year, though, it’s Clemens that spearheads a stingy defensive unit that makes life easier for the consensus best goalie in the state in James Spence.
Take Tuesday night’s 10-5 win over Strath Haven for example. The Cougars jumped out to a 5-0 lead in a battle between two teams considered by many to be the best Class AA squads in the state and squeezed the life out of the Panthers’ offense. When Strath Haven did get the ball on Springfield’s side of the field, Clemens and his crew made life tough on the Panthers. The Cougars forced the Panthers into low-percentage shots and risky passes, a strategy that’s never endorsed, but especially not when the shots are fired at an All-American goalie.
“I’m kind of just prepared at all times,” Clemens said. “My coaches – Coach (Tom) Lemieux, Coach (Ryne) Adolph – they’ll tell me, ‘This is your test. You can do this. You’ve got your teammates around you and they’ll back you up.’ It’s all about how you play, play strong technique and follow the game plan and execute.”
Execute, Springfield did. The Cougars (14-3, 9-2 Central League) were able to limit Panthers star Jeff Conner to two goals, which had a domino effect on the rest of the Strath Haven offense. A large part of that was thanks to Clemens, who’s hitting his stride as Springfield’s No. 1 defenseman.
“It’s definitely a mindset adjustment,” said Clemens, whose Cougars won for the 14th time in their past 15 games. “Usually, when you’re not playing the No. 1 guy, it’s more off-ball, but now, you’re always in the play. You always have to be ready. I’m always ready to play. No matter what opponent, I’m trying to do my best at all times.”
Springfield looks primed to make a run at another title, and while it has plenty of leadership in the form of Spence (10 saves) and Kyle Long (three goals, one assists), it’s another sophomore who handles the reins of the midfield unit. Jack Spence, James’ younger brother and the last of the Spence brothers – breathe a little easier, Central League coaches – has also amplified his role from a year ago. He’s the most credible scoring threat out of the midfield, isn’t afraid to mix it up defensively, and oh, right, he’s also Springfield’s newest faceoff guy after starter Andrew Pickett was lost to a torn ACL.
Spence took six faceoff wins away from Strath Haven standout Hunter Mazur, who won 11 of 18 battles against Spence and Clemens. The Lehigh commit also added a pair of goals and a helper, including a gorgeous lefty top-shelf rip from up top.
“(Facing off) has been great,” Spence said. “We have a great unit out there with (defensive midfielder) Matt (Ries) and Pat, and Kyle if he steps up. It’s an easy position to hop into. I get tired easier because it takes a lot out of you. (Being the No. 1 midfielder) has been more difficult, but Liam DiFonzo has stepped up and Ben (Garcia) has been huge this year.”
Despite the loss, there’s still plenty to like from Strath Haven (12-6, 7-4). Conner is the driving force behind the offense, but Jef Hewlings’ crew also got goals from Tyler Fink (on a Conner rebound), Liam Carney and Will Huestis. There will be some fine-tuning to do, but if last year is any indicator, the Panthers could be playing into June.
“We look forward to playing Springfield,” Strath Haven defenseman Ryan Morris said. “Obviously, they knocked us out last year (in the state semifinals), and them beating us is a slap in the face and we needed that. We had a couple close games that we definitely could have won, but this is a slap in the face and we need to regroup.
“We’re going to regroup or we’re going to fail and go out early, which we don’t want, and we need to regroup as a team and put it together so we can win these games.”
Springfield 3 4 2 1 – 10
Kyle Long 3g, 1a
Mike Vent 3g
Jack Spence 2g, 1a
Matt Ries 1g
Liam DiFonzo 1g
Pat Clemens 1a
Joey DeBernardi 1a
Ben Garcia 1a
James Spence 10 saves
Strath Haven 0 2 1 2 – 5
Jeff Conner 2g
Tyler Fink 1g
Liam Carney 1g
Will Huestis 1g
Ibo Pio 1a
Hunter Mazur 11-for-18 faceoffs
Will Brake 4 saves