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The Cougars knocked off arch nemesis Lower Dauphin for the third time this season on Saturday, winning 3-0 to gain a spot in the AAA Final Four


HERSHEY - The Palmyra field hockey team may win a state title this season, or it may not.

But one thing is for sure: The Cougars have already accomplished something just as difficult and impressive as capturing state gold.

With a thoroughly dominant effort fronted by senior catalysts Kiley Gallagher and Erin Huffman, Palmyra notched an unheard of third victory this season over fellow perennial power Lower Dauphin on Saturday, blanking its arch nemesis 3-0 in a PIAA Class AAA state quarterfinal clash at Milton Hershey.

The surprisingly comfortable triumph in the fourth meeting between the two proud programs this season - Palmyra had won two of the first three, but each was decided by just a single goal - lifts the Cougars to 24-2 and into Tuesday's semifinal round against District One No. 2 seed Downingtown East. Site and time for the matchup is to be announced.

Lower Dauphin, meanwhile, ends its season at 19-4-1, with, as noted, three of those defeats coming at the hands of Palmyra, which is attempting to complete a scholastic field hockey Grand Slam after capturing division, conference and district titles earlier this season.

The Cougars certainly looked capable of it on Saturday.

"It's just a great feeling," said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello, trying to let the enormity of the accomplishment sink in. "This was an amazing game. That first loss against them (in September) hurt, and each time we tried to make adjustments and just get better and learn. Because when you play a good opponent, they can always teach you something. Just having the opportunity to play them four times in a season helps you get better, win or lose. But to win today and continue on is just a great feeling. I don't think I have the right words to sum it up."

Senior forward Gallagher, who tallied the Cougars' first goal with a patented reverse stick rocket 7:10 into the first half, attributed the win to the simple, but critically important, concept of teamwork, which was in evidence throughout as Palmyra mostly controlled possession and with it the tempo of the game.

"We knew we could do it," said Gallagher, a Boston University recruit. "We just had to work together and play really hard. It's amazing. I don't think we ever played them four times, and to beat them the last three times is just awesome."

Palmyra essentially put the game away in the first 10:32 of the first half, getting Gallagher's initial score at the 22:50 mark, then making it 2-0 when Huffman wiggled through the LD defense and found the back of the cage with 19:28 still to go before intermission.

It was a flurry that LD, despite its best efforts, would not recover from.

"We were," Costello said, to the suggestion that her team was focused and ready to go from the start. "And it was two of our seniors that put those in, too. They didn't want their season to end today. It's a shame Lower Dauphin and us have to meet in the quarterfinal round, just because the quality of hockey is really good. But I thought our players just played together. When one person made a mistake, the next person was there trailing. So that was the strength of our team today, just working together."

"It's huge to get two goals early," Gallagher said. "It puts them on their heels, and they have to come back from that."

The Cougars, who outshot Lower Dauphin 5-1 and enjoyed a 9-1 dominance in penalty corner chances, made sure there would be no rally to worry about, adding an insurance goal for good measure with 20:35 left in the game when Lexi Smith scored off an assist from Gallagher.

After that, it was just a lot of clock-watching, which finally ended with Palmyra boisterously celebrating in championship-like fashion at midfield. Two more wins and they can celebrate another title for real.

"It's unbelievable," Costello said of Palmyra's ongoing championship season. "I just don't want to peak too early. Each game we just try to reset and figure out the best way to be successful and continue on with this journey."

Palmyra 3, Lower Dauphin 0

Lower Dauphin_ 0_ 0_ — _0

Palmyra_ 2_ 1_ — _3

First Half - P: Kiley Gallagher, Erin Huffman

Second Half - P: Lexi Smith (Gallagher)

Shots on goal - Palmyra 5, Lower Dauphin 1;

Corners - Palmyra 9, Lower Dauphin 1;

Goalies – LD: Maddie Lilliock (2 saves), P: Cheyenne Sprecher (1 save);

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