MECHANICSBURG - Like any two-front war, the Palmyra boys lacrosse team's venture into district tournament battle Tuesday was seemingly ill-fated.
There rose a pressure from below, caused by the first playoff stage the Cougars had stepped on in their program's history. And then a nasty pressure above, courtesy of swinging Trinity sticks hunting successfully for turnovers.
Back on April 12, during a tight regular-season win, Palmyra handled the latter. But even after clawing back to within one in the third quarter, there would be no completing its comeback against a pair of equally relentless forces.
Only calling the war for what it was: a sour end to the sweetest of seasons.
Finished by a game-ending 8-2 run, the Cougars fell to the Shamrocks, 13-6, in their District 3 tournament opener at Cumberland Valley. Trinity's Mark Mandak netted a game-high four goals, including a pair that struck with mere seconds to go at the end of the first and third quarters. Palmyra (13-6) never seriously threatened in the fourth.
"You could tell the nerves were cooking inside like no tomorrow. We reverted back to some bad habits," Cougars coach Dave Ondrusek said. "You could tell. It was almost like we reverted back to Day One. "
Blitzed early by the Shamrocks' all-field pressure, a hobbled Palmyra side yielded 11 turnovers before halftime, at which point they trailed 5-2. Coming out of the break, the black and orange worked to erase their deficit through scores from Kyle Nolen (team-best two goals) and Eric Thomas.
Yet from there, operating without Mid-Penn second team all-star attack Jared Richard and defenseman Tate Wasson among others, the Cougars only stumbled.
"We told the guys that we had to get the ball moved in order to deviate the pressure. We started doing that, but we then created way too many turnovers," Ondrusek said. "We were down a couple key players, but Trinity played a heck of a game. They came out on fire."
Inside the cage, Palmyra goalie Anthony Bressi totaled 11 saves during an effort that served as the backbone of his team's temporary comeback and savior of a leaky defense.
"Anthony did a great job," Ondrusek said. "He got hung out to dry a couple times, but he stood tall in the goal. I was real proud of the way he played today."
Soon after Mandak closed the third at a 9-6 Trinity advantage, he immediately added another goal with help from Jesse Altmeyer (two goals, one assist). Then, applying the same pressure they had used to generate an early lead, the Shamrocks (14-7) put the Cougars away for good.
"We picked up that on tape from the last time we played them and their Central Dauphin game. It seemed if you put more pressure on them, they'd turn it over," Trinity coach Dave Heisey said. "Dave (Ondrusek)'s always going to come back on you. But the big difference was we took better care of the ball today,"
Indeed Ondrusek will be back next season, the second of his tenure at Palmyra, when the Cougars hope to go above and beyond the all-time strides made this spring.
"Best season ever. We got a taste of districts," Ondrusek said. "The appetizer's happened. Now it's time for the main course."
The only stipulation being, of course, it isn't turnovers.