Palmyra's playoff hopes took a major blow with a 2-0 loss to Mechanicsburg under the lights Tuesday night at In The Net Sports Complex.
The Cougars never got to show their claws against the Wildcats, who have won three straight and seven of the last eight meetings between the Mid-Penn Conference Keystone Division rivals. Mechanicsburg's Megan Mansfield and Meghan Ross scored goals, and goalkeeper Kyle Peters made four saves to register the shutout.
The loss leaves Palmyra two games out of third place in the Keystone Division and on the outside of the District Three Class AA playoff picture. The orange and black (5-6 overall and 3-4 in the Keystone) entered the week ranked No. 17 in the most recent district rankings. Only the top 16 teams qualify for the postseason.
"We definitely needed this win in league play," said Cougars head coach Amber Miller. "We're still going to try to perform the best we can the rest of the season to have the best possible outcome. But we got to finish strong."
Despite beating Donegal 3-0 on Monday, Palmyra started slow Tuesday by allowing the Wildcats to take the lead 7:11 into action. Challenged by Cougar keeper Katy McClellan on the left side of the box, Ross slipped a centering pass to Mansfield, unmarked in the middle. The sophomore forward deposited the setup far post for a 1-0 advantage.
"(Mechanicsburg) definitely moves off the ball," added Miller. "And they wanted it more tonight."
The visitors outshot the hosts by a 9-4 margin. Kristen Smoluk launched a 50-yard volley, and Shawna Kleinfelter uncorked a tough angle grounder for Palmyra's only two shots on goal in the first 40 minutes. Angelica Kays generated both second-half chances, including a near goal on a left-footed blast in the 55th minute.
"Kylie was just a stone there on that save," said Mechanicsburg coach Sean Cochran.
Parks denied Kays with a diving save to preserve the clean sheet. The Wildcats then removed any doubts in the 76th minute on Ross' tally, which involved a pair of juke moves around a defender and another far-post putaway.
"We played tough defensively," added Cochran. "Really, the best thing to do against Palmyra is just to keep the ball away from them. Try to keep possession and keep it away from (Maddie) Good, because if she gets the ball, she's dangerous."
Good, the only senior on Palmyra's roster, was neutralized by midfielder Emma Strong for most of the match. Strong, a 6-foot freshman, countered Good's physical play with speed, agility and lanky legs.
"Palmyra's a very, very good team. Maddie Good's been lighting us up for years," Cochran said. "Emma's actually a freshman, and her ceiling is just through the roof. She's tall, and she's really starting to come into her own. She's stepped in pretty much from Game 1, and she's been awesome throughout the season."
The Wildcats conquered the Cougars 1-0 to open the 2013 campaign. Mechanicsburg has outscored Palmyra 31-7 overall in their past eight meetings.
Tuesday's goals did not come easy, however. McClellan, who stopped seven shots, and defenders Emily Salvaggio and Tabitha Fake all turned in solid efforts in defeat.
"There's definitely some girls that had outstanding performances tonight," said Miller, who led Palmyra to the district quarterfinals in her first season behind the bench last year. "They always give 100 percent, and they give their best game. It's just finding ways to get those girls more involved so we can have a successful game.
"Salvaggio played a phenomenal game tonight, along with Tabitha Fake in the back. (Fake's) coming up big for us lately wherever we're putting her on the field. She's playing really well."
The Cougars try to bounce back Thursday at 4 p.m. when they travel to Susquehanna Township.