BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – Seven-on-seven sudden-death overtime is the perfect way to decide championship field hockey matches.
Because seven-on-seven, sudden-death is all about heart. Just like championships.
On Saturday afternoon at Milton Hershey School’s Henry Hershey Field, after the Palmyra field hockey team’s skills, speed and precision weren’t enough to distinguish it from Oley Valley, the Cougars’ heart came shining through in overtime. Sisters Jess and Katie Dembrowski collaborated on the winning goal 6:37 into the extra session, as Palmyra’s 2-1 triumph over the Lynx lifted it to the District Three Class AA championship.
The district title was Palmyra’s ninth overall and seventh in the last 14 years. Palmyra, now 21-1, will carry its latest District Three championship into the PIAA Class AA tournament, where it will open play against the third-place finisher from District One, on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
Defending champion Oley Valley, which entered districts with the number-two seed behind only Palmyra, slipped to 21-3-1 overall.
“I said to the girls, ‘It’s your choice,'” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello. “‘Do you want to fold now? Or do you want to win?’ They stayed patient and poised. We’ve been wanting to be here for a while.
“No, I don’t like sudden-death overtime,” Costello continued. “I would prefer to win the game in regulation. But I have trust in my team’s fitness level.”
“We definitely played more intense,” said Jess Dembrowski, a wide-eyed freshman. “We brought it to them (the Lynx). We felt like it was our game.”
J. Dembrowski’s game-winner came on the Cougars’ third shot of overtime and resulted from a corner play that she initiated. Her insertion found K. Dembrowski at the top of the circle.
K. Dembrowski whistled an attempt for the left post which appeared to be headed just wide. But J. Dembrowski was there to get a piece of it and direct it into the cage.
It was a bang-bang play that happened in the blink of an eye.
“That was so sweet,” said Costello. “It was such a great sister connection. This is not just a senior show. I was proud of the way they (her players) played together. We practice running people through to keep legs fresh.
“We talked about how the underdog usually wins, and we weren’t the underdog,” added Costello. “There was a lot of pressure on them being the number-one seed.”
“I inserted it to my sister,” J. Dembrowski explained. “She drove it down to me and I just tried to get a piece of it. I wasn’t expecting it, but it happened.
“I didn’t expect to be out there as much as I was (in overtime),” J. Dembrowski added, “or to finish with a championship.”
K. Dembrowski was also in the middle of the Cougars’ tying tally, after Oley Valley had led 1-0 for 23 minutes.
Using her dribble, K. Dembrowski carried the ball down the right side of the field, and then controlled it in the middle of the Lynx zone. From outside the circle, K. Dembrowski fired a hard drive to the far post, which again appeared to be headed wide.
But the far post is where Erin Huffman lives. And before the ball crossed the end line, Huffman dove and got her stick on the ball, tipping it into the Oley Valley goal.
The play occurred 7:46 into the second half.
“It was a great goal,” said Costello. “We talk about diving and going all out. But that goal was Katie Dembrowski working her butt off. That’s what created the goal.”
Oley Valley scored its goal midway through the first half, off a bunch formation out of its lone corner play of the stanza.
From the right of the circle, Lynx forward Elaine Ritschard got off a big blast on Cougar goalie Nicole Berger. Berger made the initial save, but had to leave her feet to do it, and when she did, Carly Kauffman poked it home.
“Oley Valley did a great job moving the ball,” said Costello. “You have to credit your opponent. They did some things we hadn’t seen before. But we regrouped at halftime and made some adjustments. For us, I think it was more of a mental battle.”
“It was pressure being the number-one seed,” said J. Dembrowski. “They’re a good team. We just had to do our best and work together.”
Oley Valley counted three shots in the first half, but managed only one more through the second half and overtime. Palmyra got off 13 shots and executed 11 corner plays.