Palmyra falls in OT in state final
The Cougars' bid for the program's third state title came up agonizingly short in a 1-0 overtime loss to unbeaten Emmaus
WHITEHALL- In painstaking detail, the script was perfectly written. All that was left to do was to film the final, triumphant scene.
But sports, and life, sometimes deviates from the prepared script and throws in a surprise, heartbreaking ending.
And so it was for the Palmyra field hockey team on Saturday.
Looking to punctuate a remarkable season that included division, conference and district titles, the Cougars came up just short of a coveted state championship to complete the perfect circle, falling to unbeaten Emmaus 1-0 in overtime in the PIAA Class AAA state title game at Zephyr Sports Complex.
Also looking for some redemption after enduring a title game tie with Penn Manor a season ago and the bittersweet status of co-champs, Palmyra instead found only stinging heartbreak after Emmaus star Meredith Sholder's goal 1:07 into the first 7-on-7 overtime gave Emmaus its 11th state title and a perfect 27-0 record. Palmyra, making its fourth state finals appearance, ends its season at 25-3.
And without the one championship it wanted most. Not that they're unhappy with the other three titles they captured this fall, but since practice began in August - and even well before that - Saturday was the day the Cougars were looking forward to the most.
"It's a tough one," said Palmyra coach Kristi Costello, putting on a brave face as she spoke with reporters following the medal ceremony. "We're obviously very proud to make it to a state championship game two years in a row. It's not something you get to do every year. But this is not how we wanted to end it.
"This team is very goal-oriented, and this was the last goal they were searching for. At the end of the day, I'm sure they'll look back at plays and think of things they could have done better, but the effort was there. And I think that's all you can ask."
Although the contest ended in a distasteful way from a Palmyra perspective, the matchup proved to be everything a state championship game should be and more - two great teams leaving their their hearts and souls on the field, consequences be damned.
Emmaus had the better of it early, testing mightily a Palmyra defense that responded brilliantly behind five first-half saves from goalie Cheyenne Sprecher. But the Cougars controlled the second half by applying its own steady pressure to an equally stout Emmaus defense, which defended Palmyra's 12 penalty corner chances skillfully and tenaciously.
Palmyra's best scoring chance came on a reverse stick blast from Kiley Gallagher with a little more than nine minutes left in the first half, only to see Emmaus goalie Paige Garloff turn it away for one of her five saves.
"To go into overtime (and win it), it's a great feeling. I'm really elated for this group of kids," Emmaus coach Sue Butz-Stavin said. "They did a wonderful job."
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how much you possess the ball or how much you dominate a game," Costello said, "it matters who scores the goal."
And ultimately, that goal came from the prime candidate to do so, high-scoring junior forward Sholder, who entered the contest with 63 goals for the season and a staggering 158 for her career.
Bottled up all day, Sholder finally found room in the circle early in OT after Leah Zellner broke loose down the left side, drew Sprecher to her, then slipped a pass to Sholder, who deposited it into the back of the cage for the first goal allowed by Palmyra in the state tournament.
Imperfect timing for the Cougars.
"They carried the ball down the left side, and the girl got it up off the turf and crossed it," Costello said, recounting the fateful final play. "And that's all I saw. I didn't even know who scored it. I just heard the back of the cage and knew that it was over."
The state title dreams are over. What isn't over is all that Palmyra accomplished as a group throughout a remarkable postseason run. That will surely endure.
"They're great kids. They played together and they were playing for each other," Costello said, "and that's the most important thing. As always in sports, you can learn a lot of life lessons and our kids will rebound and be proud of what we accomplished. But for today, this one stings."
Emmaus 1, Palmyra 0 (OT)
Emmaus _ 0_ 0_ 1 — _1
Palmyra_ 0_ 0_0 — _0
First Half - None
Second Half - None
Overtime - Meredith Sholder (Leah Zellner)
Shots on goal - Emmaus 6, Palmyra 5;
Corners - Palmyra 12, Emmaus 7;
Goalies – E: Paige Garloff (5 saves), P: Cheyenne Sprecher (5 saves)