Set up in the middle of the field and eyeballing the way Garnet Valley set up its clear, Ryan O’Connor knew he’d have an opportunity to pounce.
The Springfield (Pa.) junior had already made his mark on the game with a bevy of caused turnovers and impressive ground balls in traffic. His biggest play, though, was about to happen some 30 seconds after the Cougars had pushed their lead to three goals.
When the Jaguars started moving the ball, O’Connor knew exactly what he was looking for. The ball made its way to one of Garnet Valley’s pole and O’Connor sprung into action. The Big 4 HHH 2022 standout took a couple of strides and hammered the ball loose right in front of the Cougars’ bench. Teammate Brett Gougler scooped up the ground ball and fed it to attackman Jack Clark, who promptly buried his fourth goal of the game.
It’s a rarity to have such a difference-maker at LSM, but O’Connor was in rare form to help Springfield upend the Jaguars, 12-7, in the PIAA District One Class AAA title game. Both teams reached the PIAA state tournament, which gets underway Tuesday. It was a stark contrast from the teams’ regular-season game, a 13-8 Garnet Valley victory.
“I saw the pole kind of looking out and I gave the pole a little empty space so they would throw it to him,” O’Connor said. “As soon as I saw the ball coming, I just jumped on it, and ultimately, it landed in the goal. We’ve all been motivated for this game. Earlier in the season, we lost, and we let that feeling of losing in our stomachs. It helped us flying around and get the win.”
O’Connor, a Villanova commit who’s also an All-Central League hockey defenseman, was in the thick of things from the start. His ridiculously good stickwork was on display early and often as he regularly took the ball away and made tough ground balls in traffic look like child’s play. He must have had a half-dozen takeaways and another bushel of ground balls, and his play led an inspired effort from the Cougars’ defense as they flummoxed Garnet Valley’s offense for much of the day.
O’Connor also saw a ton of Big 4 HHH 2022 teammate Max Busenkell in coverage, and while it’s impossible to keep the NLF’s No. 13 ’22 completely off the scoresheet, helped limit the damage from the Notre Dame commit until the fourth quarter. Busenkell still got his, finishing with three goals and an assist, but two of those goals came in unsettled situations. O’Connor has worked hard to improve his coverage ability. That work was on full display Thursday.
“Ryan’s been a tremendous leader for us day in and day out,” Springfield coach Tom Lemieux said. “He’s tenacious between the boxes and one of the best poles I’ve seen off the ground. Him covering the opposition’s best guy has given him confidence and he’s stepped up to every challenge. We’ve put a lot of pressure on him and he’s come through for us. The way he practices is why he’s great right now.”
— Matt Chandik (@MChandik26) May 27, 2021
Hannigan’s Dominance at X
Of course, it also helps your cause when you always have the ball. Uncommitted junior Colin Hannigan continued his tour de force in the district playoffs with a 17-for-22 day at the faceoff X, complete with an assist on Clark’s third goal of the first quarter. That came on a win immediately after Gougler scored, a double shot of energy for a Cougars team that came out flying.
Hannigan was a combined 36-for-46 with a goal and three helpers in the semifinals and final. A typical tenacious, scrappy Springfield kid at the X, Hannigan showed diversity with his exits and did an excellent job of offsetting the different styles of the Jaguars’ Sam Di Trolio and LSM Sam Morin (Towson). Hannigan was a perfect 6-for-6 in the opening stanza, and not so coincidentally, the Cougars rolled to a 4-1 lead.
“It feels great. We got all of the momentum in the game and we didn’t let up. Possession of the game is everything,” Hannigan said. “(Morin) is a great player and he presents a lot of challenges. A lot of adjustments were made to get around him as a player.”
Bounce Back Time for the Jaguars
Garnet Valley, which takes on Cumberland Valley in the first round of states, struggled to find its offensive footing as Springfield scored, won faceoffs, and then went on its patented marathon offensive possessions. The Cougars have staked their identity on playing a slower, patient style, and once they hold a lead, it can feel insurmountable if they keep winning faceoffs.
“They usually play a really slow pace on offense, which really killed us when they went up early because they held the ball for pretty much the whole first half,” Morin said. “That made it difficult for our offense to get going but our offense played really well. They all started getting a comeback later on.”
“It’s great coaching by Coach Lemieux,” Busenkell added. “He understands what it does to the offense. It kind of panics us and we start to rush a little. It’s hard to bounce back from that when they get up early and
Despite that, the Jaguars mounted a fourth-quarter comeback, led by Busenkell’s two markers and a goal apiece from Colin Smith and Joey Halloran. It was too little, too late, but fortunately for GV, it’ll have an opportunity to chase its elusive first state title next week.
And with the two teams being on opposite sides of the bracket, it could mean a potential rubber match in the state title game.
SPRINGFIELD – GARNET VALLEY STANDOUTS
Max Busenkell ’22, attack, Garnet Valley / Big 4 HHH / Notre Dame – NLF No. 13 ’22 (Highlights)
Busenkell’s made his bones on the club circuit as a dynamic scoring midfielder, but he slots in as the top attackman for the Jaguars. It took Busenkell a bit to get going, but once he did, he showed why he was so sought-after last fall. He swept to the left, caught a Joey Halloran feed and splashed home a lefty rip early in the third quarter. In the fourth, Busenkell added a pair of transition goals, including a beautiful stepdown rip, and he also dished out an assist to Ryan Nealon.
“They were up six goals, but we were talking and saying, ‘six goals is nothing in lacrosse,'” Busenkell said. “We felt a run coming. It was 10-7 quick and then the ball bounced their way a couple times and kind of ended our run.”
Busenkell often drew Big 4 HHH teammate Ryan O’Connor in 1v1 battles. The future Irish sniper knew what to expect from the Villanova commit, but it didn’t make life any easier for him in a matchup of two All-Central League picks.
“He’s really good with his stick and his feet and he played great,” Busenkell said. “I go against him in practice and I see him in the Central League, so I see him a lot, but it’s a good battle.”
Jack Clark ’21, attack, Springfield / Big 4 HHH / Drexel (Highlights)
The very clear leader of the Springfield offense, Clark looked poised and in control the entire game. Of course, it helps when you fire home a first-quarter hat trick to get the boys buzzing. The lefty ripped home a righty worm-burner from the wing off of a Matt Ellison feed for the first one, followed it up with a rebound dunk a minute later and then promptly blasted home a Colin Hannigan feed to cap the opening frame.
Clark’s been a mainstay in the Cougars’ lineup since his freshman campaign and he started as a sophomore, and everything runs through him. He hit Garnet Valley with a big dagger off of a Ryan O’Connor (Big 4 HHH / Villanova) takeaway. Clark’s not afraid of contact and knows that he has to get to the dirty areas to score goals.
Colin Hannigan ’22, faceoff, Springfield / Duke’s (Highlights)
Hannigan has come on strong down the stretch for the Cougars and broke away from a two-man rotation to blossom into the guy for Springfield. While he had a handful of clean wins, he did an excellent job of competing for every ground ball and didn’t relent in his pursuit of the ball. He’s physical and loves to scrap at the X, and the results were a 17-for-22 day. Hannigan also showed that he could handle the ball under pressure, usually from Sam Morin, and he tossed an assist to Jack Clark on the goal that made it 4-1.
Sam Morin ’21, LSM/defense, Garnet Valley / Freedom / Towson (Highlights)
It’s rare to find a four-year defensive starter at a powerhouse like Garnet Valley, but Morin has been a problem for offenses during his entire career. It’s hard to get away from him because he has a knack for finding the ball. Morin also took some faceoffs, and while he didn’t have a great win-loss record, he made every one of them a ground ball and made Springfield’s Colin Hannigan have to make tough decisions under pressure. Morin got out on hands a lot and had a handful of impressive stickwork plays.
Perhaps none were finer than the pass he knocked down up top on a Cougar man-up, snatched up the ground ball and ran it down to the other end. He also had an impressive shoulder to shoulder hit at GLE that knocked the ball loose.
Springfield 12, Garnet Valley 7
Springfield 4 1 4 3 – 12
Garnet Valley 1 1 1 4 – 7
’21 Jack Clark (Big 4 HHH / Drexel) 4 goals, 1 assist
’21 Robbie O’Brien 3 goals
’22 Matt Dickinson 2g
’21 Brett Gougler (Neumann) 1g, 2a
’23 Aidan Kreydt 1 goal
’23 Jimmy Kennedy 1 goal
’22 Colin Hannigan 17-for-22 faceoffs, 1 assist
’21 Matt Ellison (Widener) 1a
’21 Ethan Johnson 6 saves
’22 Max Busenkell 3 goals, 1 assist (Big 4 HHH / Notre Dame / NLF No. 13 ’22)
’23 Colin Smith 2 goals
’22 Joey Halloran 1 goal, 2 assists
’22 Ryan Nealon 1 goal
’21 Bishop Barnes (Salisbury) 1 assist
’22 Cory Urso 1 assist
’24 Drew Keaveney 6 saves
’22 Griffin Umstead 4 saves