Huffman's late goal leads Palmyra to District 3 title
The sting of the whole co-state champs debacle will never completely go away for the Palmyra field hockey team.
But on Saturday, in their latest high-stakes battle with fellow reigning state titleholder Penn Manor, the Cougars found a substantial amount of salve for that still partially open wound.
Palmyra is the District Three Class AAA champion. No strings attached.
On the strength of senior forward Erin Huffman's dynamic, highlight film-quality open-field goal with 4:43 left, the Cougars exorcised some of those state title game demons with a thrilling 1-0 victory in the Class AAA title game at Milton Hershey.
Huffman's score, combined with stellar defensive work from backs Carli Herman, Kylie Bomgardner and Katelyn Mark and goalie Cheyenne Sprecher, also allowed Palmyra an understandable moment of selfishness.
"We didn't want to share," Palmyra coach Kristi Costello said with a smile, of her now 22-2 group that will open the state playoffs on Tuesday night. "We're done with sharing. Last year we shared the state title and we didn't want to share anymore. It was just good to get a victory. I don't know, it was awesome."
And not without plenty of anxious moments, especially early on as Penn Manor's skilled and speedy forwards — Brooke DeBerdine, Alyssa Schriver, and Gabby Bitts — helped the Comets rack up six penalty corners in the first 10 minutes.
But Palmyra's defense was equal to the task each time, keeping the Cougars from losing their grip on the game in the early stages of play.
"I think right there you gotta give credit to your comer defense," Costello said. "The unit of Cheyenne, Katelyn, Carli, Jess (Dembrowski) and Kiley (Gallagher). The kept us in the game. They were able to knock the ball down, get it out of the circle, and allow us to gain our composure."
Huffman agreed, pointing out that getting behind that early could have spelled disaster for Palmyra.
"I think that was great that we held them off," said Huffman. "Because if they score early that gives them adrenaline and makes it really hard for us to defend and come back.
"They definitely have a fast forward line and their defense is solid. We respect that, and we just try to work around that."
Ironically, though, it was Huffman's speed and explosiveness that decided the game.
In a lightning quick defense-to-offense transition, Huffman took a lead pass from Dembrowski that was delivered just inside midfield, and zigged and zagged her way through a swarm of defenders to the left side of the circle.
Once there, she uncorked a reverse stick blast that slammed into the cage near the left post.
As you might imagine, it caused a slight stir on the Palmyra side.
"Jess passed it, and I saw defenders around me and just dinked around them, I guess you could say," Huffman said, recounting the score. "Then I saw they were blocking my strong side, so I just went reverse and took the shot and aimed it far post. That's where it went. It was very exciting."
The real excitement was yet to come, though.
After more than a few anxious moments in the final 4:43, including an Emma DeBerdine blast that sailed wide right of the cage with less than a minute to go, time finally ran out and the much-coveted redemption from the state finals was assured.
"It's like no other," Huffman said of those championship emotions "You can't (duplicate) that feeling."
Palmyra 1, Penn Manor 0
P 0 1 — 1 PM 0 0 — 0
Second half — Erin Huffman (4:43)
Shots on goal — P 5, PM 3
Corners — P 5, PM 9
Saves — P: Cheyenne Sprecher (3), PM: Allison Scheafer (4 saves)