Palmyra field hockey punches state final ticket
Behind nine saves from goalie Cheyenne Sprecher and two Kiley Gallagher goals, the Cougars blanked Downingtown East 3-0 in a AAA State semifinal contest on Wednesday night.
MOUNT PENN - Whitehall is lovely this time of year. At least it will look that way to the Palmyra field hockey team on Saturday.
For the second year in a row, the Cougars are headed to Zephyr Sports Complex in Whitehall to play for a state championship.
Palmyra continued an already incredibly successful season on Wednesday night, securing a return trip to the PIAA Class AAA title game with a 3-0 victory over Downingtown East in a state semifinal scrap at Exeter Township High School's Don Thomas Stadium. The contest had originally been scheduled for Tuesday night, but was postponed a day after East's bus got stuck behind an accident on the Pa. Turnpike and was unable to make it to the game.
Already in possession of Mid-Penn Keystone Division, Mid-Penn Conference and District Three titles this fall, the Cougars (25-2) will look to complete a field hockey Grand Slam of sorts on Saturday at 2 p.m. against unbeaten Emmaus. Last year, Palmyra shared the state championship after a most unsatisfying 1-1 tie with Penn Manor. This year, due to a rule change, there can be no tie.
Which is just fine with Palmyra, as it looks to take care of last year's unfinished business after thoroughly handling all of this season's business to date.
In short, they're baa-aack.
"This has been our goal all year," said a grinning Palmyra coach Kristi Costello. "But we try to be very disciplined in our approach, so we've been taking it one game at a time. We knew to start this game we had 60 minutes between us and Whitehall. But we had to take care of business."
Taking care of business wasn't so easy early on, as the District One runner-up enjoyed the better of play through the first 15 minutes and change, racking up a half-dozen penalty corner chances against a Palmyra defense that is rarely under such duress.
But Palmyra stood tall behind junior goalie Cheyenne Sprecher (9 saves), keeping East off the board until the offense finally broke through with 12:21 to go in the first half when Lexi Smith beautifully set up the first of Kiley Gallagher's two goals.
"I'll give credit to their offense. We usually don't have that many defensive corners," Sprecher said. "So it was great that we played as a unit and stayed together and helped each other. That was really big. Everything was jumbled around, but we have a solid defense."
"Obviously the first half was a little shaky for us," Costello said. "But I think you started to see the different dynamics of our team. That first goal was a great carry by Lexi Smith, a sophomore who hasn't had to shine as much in the last couple games. But she made a great play and Kiley finished it.
"And then I think we started to settle in, and our leadership kinda took over from there."
Palmyra got to the half up 1-0, then made it a 2-0 game with 22:47 left via a Carli Herman penalty stroke that beat East goalie Claire Riley to the upper left corner of the cage.
Gallagher then started the countdown to Whitehall with her second score of the night at 16:11 to go.
"We started off a little slow, but I think the first goal helped us," Sprecher said. "We picked up our intensity and started to find the back of the cage."
No opponent has found the back of the cage against Palmyra since Lower Dauphin scored in the second half of a 2-1 loss to the Cougars in the district semifinals back on Nov. 4. If that dry spell continues on Saturday, Palmyra will be celebrating its fourth championship of the season and the program's third state crown in four trips to the title game.
That's a big if, but it sure would be something special if it happens.
"It's unbelievable, just a great opportunity," Costello said. "I think we have a lot of talent on our team, but there's a lot of things that need to go right to get to this point. The mission that they've been on, our seniors and upperclassmen have been leading it. They definitely did not like sharing last year."
Palmyra 3, Downingtown East 0
Palmyra_ 1_ 2_ — _3
Downingtown East_ 0_ 0_ — _0
First Half - P: Kiley Gallagher (Lexi Smith)
Second Half - P: Carli Herman (penalty stroke), Gallagher
Shots on goal - Downingtown East 9, Palmyra 9
Corners - Downingtown East 9, Palmyra 5
Goalies – P: Cheyenne Sprecher (9 saves), DTE: Claire Riley (6 saves)