BY JEFF FALK
STATE COLLEGE – Play as a team.
Win as a team.
Lose as a team.
It’s very clear what’s motivating the Palmyra field hockey team right now. The Cougars simply don’t want their season to end.
On Tuesday night at the State College school district’s Memorial Field, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs, Palmyra competed with a unified sense of urgency. The result was a dominating 3-1 triumph over District Six champion Mifflin County, one in which five different Cougars figured in the scoring.
Despite Palmyra spending extended periods of time in the Mifflin County zone and generating numerous dangerous scoring opportunities, the score was deadlocked at one at the break. But the Cougars just kept coming, netting a pair of goals in the second half to settle the issue.
With the win, Palmyra, the runner-up out of District Three, moved to 21-2 and into Saturday’s quarterfinal round of the state tournament opposite Cumberland Valley, the fourth-place finisher out of District Three which disposed of Unionville. The site and time of that match has yet to be announced.
It was a week ago that Palmyra defeated Cumberland Valley 3-0 in the semifinals of the District Three postseason.
What last night’s victory also did was kept the Cougars undefeated against every team it has played this season not named ‘Lower Dauphin’. Mifflin County ended its campaign at 8-6-1.
“They did play with a sense of urgency,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello of her charges. “You’ve got to win to stay in. They know that very well. Last year, losing in the first round of states, was a big blow. That loss hit close to home. They understood the magnitude of this game.
“I thought our play all over the field was good,” continued Costello. “We just couldn’t finish. We have to shoot to score, not just shoot to shoot.”
The eventual game-winning goal came off the stick of Cougar senior Jess Fuschetti 12:28 into the second half. The play was created by Katie Dembrowski’s work on the right baseline.
After K. Dembrowski worked hard to control the ball and shake the Husky defense, she slid a quick pass into the goal mouth. J. Fuschuscetti immediately whacked the feed into the midsection of Husky goalie Karilyn Elder, and when that didn’t work, J. Fuschetti whacked again, this time knocking the ball by her.
Then with the Cougars’ lead still precarious, junior Erin Huffman extended it to 3-1.
K. Dembrowski got off a good blast on Elder, who kicked it aside, but right on the stick of the opportunistic Huffman. While falling away, Huffman flicked the rebound into the short side.
“It was a great goal,” said Costello of J. Fuschetti’s decisive tally. “It was a great finish. I thought Jess had a good game tonight. It was nice to see some of the other girls get involved in the scoring.
“That’s awesome, when you have different kids stepping up each game,” Costello continued. “That’s how you become a good team. But you’ve also got to credit your defense. I thought we played well there as well. It’s nice to see other people step up.”
Palmyra scored first, on its first shot, generated from its first corner, 1:23 into the contest.
Jess Dembrowski’s insertion found sister Katie at the top of the circle, and K. Dembrowski uncorked a blast that was knocked off course by a Husky defender. But the ball caromed to Amanada Fuschetti, and A. Fuschetti spotted wide-open teammate Kiley Gallagher, who one-timed the feed into the short side of the cage.
“We controlled the game,” said Costello. “But if you leave a team hanging around, hanging around, you have a game that’s closer than it should be. Mifflin County has some speed up front.
“We knew they had a good passing game,” added Costello. “We knew they were a physically strong team. We saw what we expected. We capitalized with our short passing game.”
The Huskies produced the equalizer 5:24 after the Cougars had gone ahead.
Off a counter attack, Mifflin County’s Kezia Loht played a ball from the right side of the field to teammate Emma Aumiller positioned on the left post. Aumiller’s one-timer was snuffed by Palmyra goalie Cheyenne Sprecher, but Aumiller stayed with the play and knocked her own rebound past her.
Aumiller’s two shots would prove to be the only two the Huskies could muster all evening.
“I’m not sure what happened on their goal,” said Costello. “We’re going to have to look at the film. But they did a good job of taking quick hits.
“At halftime, we talked about finishing and not feeling frustrated,” Costello added. “And continuing to move the ball.”
Palmyra unleashed 13 shots in the first half and finished with a game total of 22. The Cougars also won the penalty corner battle 23-0.
Had it not been for the play of Elder, the game could’ve have gotten out of hand early.
“We’re very familiar with Cumberland Valley,” said Costello. “It’ll be closer to home, so we can get a little bit of a crowd. We had a nice bus ride, not a lot of traffic and it was a nice night for hockey.”
Cumberland Valley defeated Unionville
Palmyra 3, Mifflin County 1
Wyoming Valley West 2, Council Rock North 1
Emmaus 7, Conestoga 1
Downington East 3, Cardinal O’Hara 1
C.B. South vs. Stroudsburg
Lower Dauphin 6, Phoenixville 0
Penn Manor 2, North Allegheny 1