PALMYRA - Lebanon County's only two boys' lacrosse programs squared off for the second time as a PIAA-sanctioned event Saturday morning. For the second straight year, Palmyra showed Cedar Crest what it could accomplish as a program in just a few more years.
The Cougars (6-5) played stalwart defense in front of an impeccable goalkeeping performance by T.J. Cole to defeat the visiting Falcons 9-2 at In The Net Sports Complex. Cole, who did not play in the fourth quarter, added 11 saves to his area-leading season total and allowed only one goal while in net.
The lone goal against occurred early in the second half while two of his defenders watched from the sideline. The Falcons (2-8) mustered just two goals for the game, both in the second half and came on either a two- or three-man advantage.
"(Our) defense played very well today, and we had two JV guys playing defense that really stepped up and played well," said Palmyra head coach Jeff Gatano.
According to the Cougar coach, a varsity defender missed Saturday's game with strep throat.
As nice as this victory is for Palmyra, it must now quickly turn its attention to a brutal stretch of matchups. The Cougars host powerhouses Carlisle and Hershey in back-to-back games Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
"These are our two toughest games coming up," said Gatano. "If we're going to hang with them, our defense is going to have to play really well. They both have a lot of offensive firepower."
Carlisle (Commonwealth Division) and Hershey (Keystone Division) sit atop the standings in both divisions of the Mid-Penn Conference. The Cougars will need more than just a stout defensive performance against these top squads.
"We need to settle the ball offensively. We did a nice job of that today," said Gatano. "We worked the ball around well, and if we're going to keep up with Carlisle and Hershey, we're going to have to do that against both of them."
Jon Bernhard led all players in scoring Saturday by netting a hat trick. Bernhard scored all of his goals to give Palmyra a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Cougars ended the opening frame with a 4-0 lead when the team's scoring leader, Evan Downey, slammed home his first of two goals on the day with under a minute remaining in the quarter. Downey also recorded three assists in the contest.
"Our team didn't play real well in the first half," said Cedar Crest head coach Brian Powers.
"In the second half, it was 2-2. I definitely saw improvement in the second half with the effort. If we work to eliminate some of the mistakes we made in the first half, the game's closer."
Colin Fulmer and Joey Hess added two goals each for the Cougars. Crest goalkeeper Tim Redinger notched 10 saves in net and was impressive between the pipes despite allowing nine goals.
The only mistake by the Falcon netminder came early in the second quarter. Redinger had the ball knocked out of his stick's pocket from behind while being pursued in the defensive area.
The loose-ball scramble was recovered by a Palmyra attacker and flipped across to Fulmer in front of the net, and he promptly buried the empty-net goal. Skyler Hoffert scored the Falcons' first goal and Andrew Beamesderfer added another late tally in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars have had a lacrosse program for approximately three years longer than the Falcons. The difference in the level of play is clear for anyone who watches these squads clash. Cedar Crest is improving game to game and should be able to compete at a much higher level in the near future.
Powers mentioned after the game he cannot use wins as a benchmark for his team.
"If you only have two wins, you can't use wins, necessarily, as a benchmark," said Powers. "What you're looking for is the effort. Have we improved? Are we doing things better? And I'd say we've played 10 games and on eight of them I've felt that way."
The Falcons travel to Ephrata on Monday.