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FIELD HOCKEY: Another Instant Classic for LD-Palmyra

HUMMELSTOWN >> The skill level was off the charts. The competitive fire and ability to overcome obstacles, both physical and emotional, were something to behold. You guessed it, Palmyra and Lower Dauphin were playing field hockey again.

To the surprise of pretty much no one, the two perennial super powers authored another classic Tuesday night in a battle of unbeatens under the lights at Lower Dauphin Middle School.

This time LD and Palmyra may have outdone themselves – at least until their next epic encounter – going at it at a ridiculously high level for 66-plus minutes of game time before Lower Dauphin (8-0, 5-0 Mid Penn Keystone) emerged with a 3-2 overtime triumph on the strength of Rachel Yeager's converted penalty stroke with 8:57 left in the 15-minute seven-on-seven extra session.

Yeager's game-winner came less than two minutes after her previous penalty stroke try was denied by Palmyra goalie Cheyenne Sprecher.

Both strokes awarded to Yeager were protested to no avail by the Palmyra coaching staff. But in the aftermath, Cougars coach Kristi Costello declined to directly address the controversial calls, instead focusing on what was yet another captivating chapter in an increasingly storied rivalry and what her team can do to avoid another gut-wrenching defeat in the rematch next month.

"Lower Dauphin is a great team; no one's surprised by that," said a disappointed Costello, whose squad fell to 6-1 overall and 4-1 Keystone Division. "They reload every year. There's a lot of respect between both programs. It was exciting for the fans. A loss definitely helps you in your season; we're gonna go back to the drawing board and see some areas we can definitely improve on. We're gonna control what we can control, and that's us.

"It was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions. A game like this, win or lose, helps build character and helps us grow."

Palmyra, though, certainly would have preferred to be celebrating instead of looking for building blocks, something LD didn't have to worry about after Yeager put the decisive stroke home on her second try to set off a boisterous celebration by the home team and its fans.

"Oh my gosh, it was a great game," said veteran LD coach Linda Kreiser. "Just everything that you could expect in a game. I was really proud of our girls in that (seven-on-seven) because they have such talented players, but we pressured them and got it in the circle to get the calls. I have to give our girls credit, and I also have to give (Palmyra) a lot of credit."

Lower Dauphin struck the first blow and wasted no time delivering it, opening the scoring just 1:06 into the game when Alli Bitting's laser shot off Logan Gaughan's penalty corner insert slammed into the back of the cage.

Erin Huffman answered for Palmyra with 9:37 left in the half off a corner and via the first of Kiley Gallahger's two assists, only to see Lower Dauphin grab the lead again just 1:52 before the break when Katie Spanos finished off another corner try.

But Palmyra was undeterred, pulling even again with 20:43 left when Hannah Marx scored off a feed from Gallagher.

"I think they came out ready to go, and it took us a minute or two," Costello said of falling behind so early. "But then I thought we regained composure and possessed the ball really well beyond that. We had the better of it after that."

That is, until OT, when LD's consistent pressure led to the two penalty strokes, both of which were forced by Yeager, who went from hero to goat back to hero after beating Sprecher on her second attempt.

"I tried to ignore everything around me and just focus on ball placement," Yeager said after beating Sprecher with a shot to the right corner of the cage. "That was a great opportunity to be able to come back and re-do it. It was disappointing when I didn't make it the first time, but being able to come back and help my team win, it's amazing."

An amazing thrill, for sure, to be on the winning end of it. And an amazingly difficult way to lose.

"We have it on tape so we'll look at it," Costello said, clearly miffed at the stroke calls. "It's unfortunate, but we'll take it, learn from it, and move forward."

Lower Dauphin 3, Palmyra 2 (OT)

Palmyra110—2 Lower Dauphin201—

First half — P: Erin Huffman, LD: Alli Bitting, Katie Spanos

Second half — P: Hannah Marx

Overtime — LD: Rachel Yeager (penalty stroke)

Assists — LD: Logan Gaughan, Bitting, P: Kiley Gallagher 2

Shots on goal — Lower Dauphin 9, Palmyra 5

Corners — Lower Dauphin 6, Palmyra 3

Saves — P: Cheyenne Sprecher (5 saves), Carli Herman (defensive save), LD: Madison Lilliock (3 saves)

JV score — Lower Dauphin 4, Palmyra 0