BY JEFF FALK
NEW SCHAEFFERSTOWN – Not sure the Palmyra field hockey team began the season saying, ‘Let’s get to the state championship game’, or even if the Cougars started this particular tournament believing they were going to win it. But sometimes, when a team focuses, doesn’t look too far ahead, takes care of its daily business and plays games one at a time – there’s that trite expression popping up again – good things happen to good people.
It’s certainly a reminder of exactly how many things we’re really in control of, and that often things really do occur for a reason.
On Tuesday night at Tulpehocken High School, the Cougars continued to play their very best hockey at the very best time of the year, trouncing Emmaus 4-0 in the semifinals of the PIAA Class AAA postseason. Palmyra scored three times in the last 18 minutes of the first half, and got goals from four different sources.
In going 3-0 in the Class AAA state playoffs, Palmyra, which had spent the last number of years competing at the AA level, has now outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 10-1. The 23-2 and District Three runner-up Cougars will take on District Three third-place finisher Penn Manor, a 2-0 semifinal winner over Central Bucks South, on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Whitehall-Coplay’s Zephyr Sports Complex, for the ultimate prize in high school sports.
The Cougars will be making their third appearance in a state championship game, but their first in Class AAA. On September 20 at the Cougar Club Classic, Palmyra defeated Penn Manor 1-0.
Emmaus, the District 11 champion, concluded its campaign at 24-2-1.
“I don’t know,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello, when asked when she first thought about the possibility of reaching the state championship game. “We weren’t sure what this team’s potential was. When we played Lower Dauphin the first time (a 1-0 Palmyra win), I thought this team could do great things.
“We lost in districts (to Lower Dauphin in the final),” continued Costello, “and I think that’s been our greatest blessing. We made some changes I’m not sure we would’ve made if we hadn’t lost. We lost the battle, but won the war.”
The Cougars began to take control of the play in the middle of the first half, and then grabbed a 1-0 lead 17:44 before the break courtesy of freshman Alexis Smith. Out of a corner play, Katie Dembrowski located sister Jessica Dembrowski on the left post.
J. Dembrowski appeared to shoot from a hard angle, and although the ball got behind Emmaus netminder Tori Laczo, it appeared to be headed wide of the cage. But A. Smith was sitting on the right post and used the shaft her stick to direct it home.
“It was definitely a team win today,” said Costello. “We talked about staying focused every play. We’re definitely distributing the ball around. They (her players) just came hungry.
“This is huge,” added Costello. “My staff has, but I haven’t played in a state championship and I haven’t coached in a state championship. It’s new territory for me. It’s special for Katie (Dembrowski) and the legacy she’s going to leave behind.”
“You always want to make it to the state championship game,” said Palmyra junior Kiley Gallagher. “We knew going into the season we had a lot of good players back and that we were going to be good. After the district championship game, we turned it on. We knew there was a possibility we could do it.”
It was a Gallagher who gave the Cougars a 2-0 lead five minutes later.
From the left side of the field, teammate Carissa Smith sent Gallagher into the circle. Once there, Gallagher knew exactly what to do with the ball, unleashing a 15-yarder which beat Laczo cleanly to the short side.
“I was going down the left side, and from the outside ‘Rissa gave me a pass,” said Gallagher. “I cut in and shot. It went in, but I don’t know where.”
“Kiley has really come into her own in the postseason,” said Costello. “I think she’s playing in a position that really showcases her talents. She’s owning moments.”
Palmyra extended its lead to 3-0, 2:34 before the half on a hustle play from senior Amanda Fuschetti. From a corner insertion, Gallagher got off a good shot on Laczo, and with the ball at her feet, A. Fuschetti banged the rebound home.
“We definitely had to settle in,” said Costello. “We were very nervous. We were apprehensive and cautious. We talked about them (the Hornets) being physically strong. But I thought our passing was very good.
“They’re (the Hornets) so threatening,” Costello continued. “Our girls were really focused on turning right away, playing defense right away. We had stellar defense from our entire team. All over the field we were making great plays.”
“In the first half, scoring three goals was great,” said Gallagher, “but we knew they could come back. After we scored the fourth goal, it was like we just had to play good defense.”
Gallagher was also involved with the Cougars’ ‘exclamation point’ tally, which came with 8:37 remaining, out of transition down the right side of the field.
Going left, Gallagher got off a shot that ricocheted off of Laczo’s pads. Palmyra sophomore Kylie Bomgardner gobbled up the rebound and deposited it inside the right post.
“I thought the fourth goal was awesome,” said Costello. “It was a great shot by Kiley Gallagher. That sealed the deal for us. In the second half, I felt like the last three minutes of the game was an eternity.”
“Our passing game is really good,” said Gallagher. “But you have to be able to look your teammates in the eyes and say we played our best.”
Emmaus registered the first corner and the first two shots of the game, but after that it was all Palmyra. The Cougars finished with 14 shots to the Hornets’ six.
Cougar goalie Cheyenne Sprecher logged five saves to record her second straight shutout in as many playoff outings.
“Cheyenne was phenomenal,” said Costello of Sprecher. “She made some unbelievable saves. When you’re able to do that to a good team, it can frustrate them.
“It was just good defense. Good team defense,” added Costello. “It’s (Palmyra’s defensive scheme) a mix from our coaches on staff. But we’ve done some similar things at Palmyra.”
“I was pretty nervous at the beginning,” said Gallagher. “Obviously it was an important game. But we played good and finished well.”
‘Nice game, Emmaus. Thank you, officials. Way to go, Cougars!’
Palmyra Field Hockey