HUMMELSTOWN - Like all successful athletic programs, the Palmyra field hockey team takes the long view when considering a season.
Losses suffered early on, and wins achieved for that matter, are to be kept in their proper perspective. No need to get too high or too low about what goes down in the first few weeks of the season.
That being said, the Cougars found themselves in as close to a must-win situation as they ever get in September heading into their latest clash with arch rival Lower Dauphin.
Already down a game in its quest to defend its Mid-Penn Keystone Division title after last Monday's 1-0 loss to Hershey, Palmyra could ill-afford to drop another key divisional game when it arrived at LD Middle School on Monday night.
So the Cougars didn't.
On the strength of second half goals from Lexi Smith and Jess Dembrowski and its best overall team effort of the still young season, Palmyra threw its hat back into the Keystone title campaign with a gut-check 2-1 victory.
Smith got the Cougars on the board 3:15 into the second half to break a scoreless tie, and Dembrowski added what would prove to be a mucho important insurance goal with 8:43 left as the visitors held on from there to improve to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Keystone. LD, meanwhile dropped to 5-1-1 overall and 2-1-1 in the division with its first loss.
"I think for us tonight, we just wanted to come in and play the best hockey we could at this point of the season," Palmyra coach Kristi Costello said. "I feel like my team is continuing to get better and going in the right direction, but we have a lot of youngsters on our team so we're just trying to keep getting better. The way they competed tonight was awesome, and for us to come away with the win was even better."
"It was really important for us," said senior midfielder Dembrowski, who's been in more than her share of Palmyra-LD wars. "We want to win all of our games, obviously, but LD has always been our rival and they've always been great competition. I think we learned from our Hershey game and I think it was good for us. We all kinda came together."
It took a little while on Monday, though. The Falcons had the better of it for much of the first half as Palmyra struggled to find its tried and true short passing game.
But the Cougars upped their level of play considerably after the break, and it paid off with 26:45 left when Smith, assisted by Kristen Robinson, scored on a corner scrum to put the visitors in front for good.
UConn recruit Dembrowski would make it a 2-0 game at the 8:43 mark by finishing off Katelyn Mark's corner insert.
"We probably just needed to get a warm-up in," Dembrowski said with a laugh of the key to Palmyra's improved second half play. "And we're not really used to this turf, because the turf at our field (at In The Net) is like 10 years old and really fast. This is longer for us and harder with stick skills."
The field must have seemed twice as long as the clock incredibly slow after LD responded to Dembrowski's score with a top-of-the-circle rocket by Rachel Yeager to cut the lead in half with 6:58 left.
But Palmyra stood tall to the end, absorbing a number of spirited LD charges up the field in the final minutes to hang on for the ultra important - oops, it's only September - victory.
"If someone could have just gotten the ball and dribbled off the last 3:05 (after Palmyra's last keep-it-together timeout) I would have been really happy," Costello joked. "Those last two (LD) corners were a little nerve-racking. They're gonna compete to the end, and that's what you hope for in one of these games."
Palmyra 2, Lower Dauphin 1
Palmyra 0 2 - 2
Lower Dauphin 0 1 - 1
Goals: P- Lexi Smith, Jess Dembrowski, LD - Rachel Yeager
Assists: P - Kristen Robinson, Katelyn Mark, LD - Halle O'Neill
Shots: Palmyra 3, Lower Dauphin 3
Saves: P - Cheyenne Sprecher (2 saves), LD: Kate Lammando (1 save)
Corners: Lower Dauphin 6, Palmyra 4
JV score: Lower Dauphin 2, Palmyra 0