HUMMELSTOWN >> The Palmyra field hockey team knows all too well what it feels like to sweat out a first-round, win-or-go-home district playoff game.
Last year, the Cougars' run to the AAA district and state finals was almost over before it began, thanks to barely surviving an opening-round nailbiter vs. Elizabethtown, 2-1 in overtime.
Suffice it to say, history did not repeat itself on Thursday night. Nor did it come close.
Palmyra erupted for two goals in the first 4:30 and three in the opening 11:50 en route to a 6-0 first-round demolition of Central Dauphin in a lopsided Class AAA opener at Lower Dauphin Middle School.
Senior defender Carli Herman got Mid-Penn Conference champ Palmyra (19-2) started 2:02 into the game when she knocked in an Erin Huffman pass at the left post after initiating a penalty corner play, and Huffman and Kiley Gallagher added early scores of their own to help Palmyra all but wrap up a berth in Saturday's quarterfinal round by the midway point of the first half.
Waiting for the third-seeded Cougars on Saturday will be Cumberland Valley, a 1-0 first-round winner over Exeter. The contest is set for 3 p.m. at Milton Hershey.
Based on Thursday night's dominant effort, Palmyra figures to be more than ready for its next elimination game.
"I think we had a little bit carryover from last year. The first round, for us, was a tough day all around," said Palmyra coach Kristi Costello, who missed that district opener after being hospitalized following a car crash. "I think we just wanted to make sure that we played well and played together. We have an older team this year, so they really remember that, and also the first round of states two years ago when we got knocked out when we were a high seed. We just wanted to make sure we were respectful of our opponent and took care of what we needed to do."
No worries there, as Palmyra outshot CD (11-8-1) 17-0 in the first half on the way to a 24-1 disparity by game's end. It was a performance that was every bit as overwhelming as the stat book indicates.
"We just really wanted to make it different than last year," said Herman, who would add a second goal on a penalty stroke midway through the second half. "We wanted to make a statement that we could make it through the first round without any crazy things happening.
"Our corners, we've been working on them a lot, and they looked a lot better," Herman added. "And our passing as a team was a lot better. I thought we kept the ball moving more than we have a lot during the regular season."
And the Cougars did so on a Lower Dauphin Middle School playing surface that has given them trouble over the years.
None of those past struggles were apparent on Thursday, though, as Palmyra executed at a high level throughout. That resulted in second-half goals from Jess Dembrowski with 23:58 left and Huffman with 2:27 remaining off a slick feed from Lexi Smith, scores that sandwiched Herman's penalty stroke tally with 17:38 to go.
"We sometimes have trouble on this field, because it's kinda bouncy compared to our field," Costello said. "It was a much better performance than what we usually play when we're here."
And it should provide Palmyra with plenty of forward momentum with which to plow through a loaded AAA field that includes arch rival and No. 2 seed Lower Dauphin and top-seeded Penn Manor.
"We just take it one game at a time and focus on what we need to do," Herman said, refusing to peek too far ahead. "I thought we played as a team and focused on our passing game and not trying to do anything individually."
Palmyra 6, Central Dauphin 0
First half — P: Carli Herman, Erin Huffman, Kiley Gallagher
Second half — P: Jess Dembrowski, Herman (penalty stroke), Huffman
Assists — P: Huffman, Nicole Shank, Gallagher, Lexi Smith
Shots on goal — Palmyra 24, Central Dauphin 1;
Corners — Palmyra 19, Central Dauphin 2;
Saves — CD: Lydia Smeltz (18 saves), P: Cheyenne Sprecher (0 saves), Ava Kristich (1 save)