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Palmyra not at best, still moves on, 2-0

The Cougars were a bit flat on Tuesday night but were still plenty good enough to beat Council Rock South 2-0 in the opening round of the state playoffs.

HERSHEY - Saturday's dramatic overtime win over Penn Manor in the 3A district championship game was one of the most exhilarating victories the Palmyra field hockey program has ever known.

And that's saying quite a bit, considering the Cougars' storied, championship-rich history.

So when Palmyra returned to the field on Tuesday night for its state playoff opener vs. Council Rock South, it was probably unrealistic to expect it to be emotionally ready enough to produce another effort like Saturday's.

The Cougars weren't. And it didn't matter.

Though nowhere near the top of its game, physically or emotionally, Palmyra still had more than enough in the tank to drive past the No.6 seed from District One, riding first half goals from Jess Dembrowski and Nicole Shank to a 2-0 triumph at Milton Hershey.

Now 20-2 and bound for Saturday's quarterfinal round opposite another District One opponent, Unionville, at a site and time to be determined, Palmyra was also without head coach Kristi Costello on Tuesday night - Costello gave birth to her second child on Monday - but was still able to overcome what it didn't have and blank Council Rock South.

Dembrowski scored the only goal the Cougars would need via a superb individual effort with 16:28 left in the first half, and Shank added some insurance off a Lauren Wadas assist with 4:43 to go before the break to give Palmyra a two-goal lead it would not come close to relinquishing.

"We did not play well. We looked flat. We looked like a team coming off a huge championship game," said Palmyra assistant coach Kent Harshman, subbing for Costello, his daughter, as head coach on Tuesday. "At the same time, I don't want to take anything away from (Council Rock South), they did what they had to do to keep themselves in the game. They did a nice job.

"But we were dribbling too much, we were not having our heads up and seeing open people. We just looked flat. We did not play like we have been playing."

That said, the Cougars still enjoyed a 7-5 shots advantage, drew five penalty corners and got another shutout in goal from senior Cheyenne Sprecher, who finished with 3 saves.

And Palmyra also created more than a few opportunities to add to its lead in the second half, including a near-miss on a reverse stick blast by Wadas with about 20 minutes left.

"We got some good looks in the second half," Harshman said. "I think we got as good a looks in the second half as we did in the first.We missed the cage by a foot twice in the second half. We didn't draw the corners in the second half, but we weren't doing the things with tight skill in the circle that we need to be doing to draw the corners."

But the Cougars did the only thing they really needed to do - play well enough to stay alive for a third straight trip to the 3A state finals. There are only 8 3A teams in the state still playing and the Cougars are one of them. No matter what they didn't do Tuesday night.

"You gotta remember, they're 14 to 18-year old kids," Harshman said, putting the night in perspective. "All you gotta do is watch Sunday afternoon every week from September through December, and you can see grown men do the same thing that are making millions of dollars. You can't be too upset. They're kids.

"The good thing is, you win, you move on, you leave it behind and move on to the next one. So that's what we'll do."

Palmyra 2, Council Rock South 0

Council Rock South 0 0 - 0

Palmyra 2 0 - 2

Council Rock South 0 0 - 0

Goals: P - Jess Dembrowski, Nicole Shank

Assists: P - Lauren Wadas

Shots: Palmyra 7, Council Rock South 3

Saves: CRS - Sabrina Masone (5 saves) , P - Cheyenne Sprecher (3 saves)

Corners: Palmyra 5, Council Rock South 5