Palmyra survives Lower Dauphin, reaches district final
HERSHEY >> Halloween is over, but that didn't prevent the Palmyra and Lower Dauphin field hockey teams from playing dress-up on Wednesday night.
Actually, the arch rivals and District 3 super powers didn't don any costumes, but they did do an excellent job of disguising their Class AAA district semifinal clash as a championship game-caliber encounter.
It was more treat than trick, for sure.
Palmyra and LD combined on yet another instant classic in a rivalry filled with them, this one a 2-1 Palmyra victory under the lights at Milton Hershey School's Henry Hershey Field.
The Cougars' second victory over LD this season — a noteworthy accomplishment in its own right — ups their record to 21-2 and propels them into Saturday's 3 p.m. title game back at Milton Hershey against top-seeded Penn Manor, a 4-0 winner over Hershey in Wednesday's other semifinal.
Palmyra and Penn Manor are the defending AAA co-state champs after a 1-1 tie in last season's PIAA title game.
They, along with LD, are also the best of a ridiculously talent-rich district that is the envy of the rest of the state, and many other states, when it comes to field hockey. Wednesday night's battle served as an appropriate reminder.
"I say the same thing every time we play them, but I truly mean it. They're a great team, a great program and we have a lot of respect for them," Palmyra coach Kristi Costello said of the latest encounter with LD. "It was another high-level game. It's amazing field hockey in our district is so strong, that a semifinal game looks like that."
It looked like that because of Kiley Gallagher's gorgeous reverse stick score 3:57 into the game that gave Palmyra the early lead. It looked like that because of the brilliant play of Cougar goalie Cheyenne Sprecher, who roamed around in front of the cage and beyond to deny quality Lower Dauphin chances and register five key saves.
And it looked like that because LD attacked skillfully and ferociously throughout, never more impressively than when Rachel Yeager answered Carli Herman's score that put Palmyra up 2-0 with 18:38 left with a clutch goal of her own less than two minutes later to put the Falcons (17-3-1) back in it.
"Oh, definitely," said Sprecher, to the suggestion that the contest had a title game feel to it. "It meant a lot (to win) because they're definitely a strong team and we have to face them every year. To have one win under our belt this season (the teams split their regular season meetings) just gave us more intensity for this game. It was really exciting. It was fun to play."
The majority of the contest was played between the 20-yard lines, a testament to the teams' defensive tenacity and overall skill.
That was reflected in the low shot and corner totals for both teams. Lower Dauphin created more shots with six, but Palmyra scored on its only two shots of the game. LD held a 3-2 edge in penalty corners.
"Lower Dauphin really had us on our heels for the better part of the end of the first half," Costello said. "Then we were able to get some attacking opportunities there, but we were having a hard time getting our passing game going because they were doing a great job breaking up the offense. It was a little stressful."
Right until the end, in fact, as Palmyra was still trying to dig the ball out of its defensive circle in the final minute.
But the Cougars eventually did, courtesy of a Nicole Shank breakaway that chewed up the final seconds and eventually set off a jubilant Palmyra gathering at midfield.
"It wasn't pretty the whole 60 minutes, but that's the beauty of where we are in the season," Costello said. "I'm just really proud that we found a way to win and gave ourselves the opportunity to play for a championship."
Palmyra 2, Lower Dauphin 1
First half — P: Kiley Gallagher
Second half — P: Carli Herman, LD: Rachel Yeager
Assists — P: Jess Dembrowski
Shots on goal — Lower Dauphin 6, Palmyra 2;
Corners — Lower Dauphin 3, Palmyra 2;
Saves — P: Cheyenne Sprecher (5 saves), LD: Maddie Lilliock (0 saves)