BY JEFF FALK
HUMMELSTOWN – They say that sports imitates life. Well, certainly the boundaries between the two have ways of becoming blurred.
Sometimes exactly how one reaches a desired outcome isn’t really all that important. What matters most is that the desired outcome is in fact reached.
On Tuesday morning, pregnant Palmyra head field hockey coach Kristi Costello was involved in a fairly serious car accident on her way to school. On Tuesday evening at Lower Dauphin Middle School, playing without her, Costello’s Cougars edged Elizabethtown 2-1 in overtime of an opening round game of the District Three Class AAA postseason.
From all reports, Costello – except for a fractured knee – and her newborn daughter are doing as well as could possibly be expected, given the circumstances. Kiley Gallagher scored both goals for Palmyra – one with 41 seconds remaining in regulation to force the extra session, and the other with 2:11 left in the first sudden-victory overtime period to win it.
While it certainly wasn’t the way Costello intended to deliver her first child, there were undeniable sighs of relief and aspects of gratitude surrounding the outcome. While the contest certainly didn’t unfold the way they planned, the second-seeded Cougars did avoid a huge upset.
And now Palmyra has one more reason to play for. The longer the Cougars can keep their playoff run going, the better the chance they have of getting Costello back to coach them.
Up next for the now 18-1 Cougars is a Saturday date with tenth-seeded Cedar Cliff, which edged Muhlenberg 1-0. The site and time of the quarterfinal match has yet to be determined.
Elizbethtown, the 15th seeded, ended its campaign at 13-8.
“It’s been a long day,” said Kent Harshman, Palmyra’s former head coach, its acting head coach and Costello’s father. “The baby and Kristi are fine, and right now, that’s the most important thing. When you look at the car and see what happened, you can’t help but feel fortunate. They (doctors) put her knee back together. That’s the good news. The baby was born and Kristi is alright.
“The kids were excited to play and they knew what they had to do,” continued Harshmann. “It was not a problem with our preparation. Elizabethtown just played a great game. Sure this is important. Hopefully she (Costello) can get out of the hospital and see them (the Cougars) play again, coach them again. Her due date was two days after the state championship game and it was very unlikely she was going to go to full-term. We were prepared for the possibility. I’m thrilled to death, not only that we won, but that Kristi and the baby are OK.”
After Elizabethtown goalie Katelyn Keller and the Bear defense had frustrated the Cougars’ prolific attack for the better part of 70 minutes of action, Gallagher found – or made – a way to win it. Gallagher’s game-winner originated from a hard push to the cage by Jess Dembrowski along the right base line.
J. Dembrowski managed to force a pass off the sticks of two Bear defenders, and to a waiting Gallagher. In one sweeping motion, Gallagher collected the feed, turned and whipped a high shot past Keller and into the far side of the cage.
“Kiley did make some huge plays,” said Harshman. “Some people may question why we play her in the midfield. But we have her in the midfield because she’s tremendously blessed, in many ways. Her ability to see the field and distribute the ball is amazing. She’s very blessed as a scorer and she’s equally blessed as a midfielder.”
Anxiously facing a 1-0 deficit and with time running down in regulation, Palmyra’s persistence finally paid off, from a corner insertion with under a minute to play. Keller kicked away a first Cougar shot, but Gallagher found the rebound on her stick to the left side of the E-town goal.
Gallagher wristed the ball by Keller and into the far side of the cage. An Elizabethtown defender appeared to have a chance to make the save, but couldn’t come up with it.
“I don’t think you can take away a head coach and not have it have an impact on a team,” said Harshman. “There’s no way in the world I’m going to blame this on how we played. They (the Bears) played an absolutely amazing hockey game. Our kids didn’t quit. I continue to be proud of them, but there were some things to execute better.
“They (the Bears) were fantastic,” added Harshman. “They know how we play, and they know many of our kids. They did what they had to do to take things away from us.”
After the Cougars had owned a good majority of the play in the first half, a counter-attack gave the Bears a 1-0 lead.
Employing an aggressive stick-handling style, E-town’s Kortney Keller rushed the ball into the Palmyra attack zone and split a couple of Cougar defenders. While being marked, Keller was able to slide the ball to her left, where teammate Sol Ortiz-Kreiner managed to beat Palmyra keeper Cheyenne Sprecher to the ball, and knock it by her.
Sprecher was injured on the encounter, taken out of the contest and did not return.
“Elizabethtown flew very aggressively at us,” said Harshman, “and somewhat took us out of our game plan. It’s something we had not seen – flying aggressively as they were.”
Keller made at least three big saves in the second half to preserve the Bears’ one-goal edge.
She kicked out a hard Gallagher drive that resulted from a steal. She played the angle well on a well-struck blast from Hayley Schultz from the right side. And she may have been a bit fortunate when unmarked Cougar sniper Erin Huffman fired a J. Dembrowski set-up just wide, from in close, with less than ten minutes left in regulation.
Then five minutes into the extra session, Keller again stoned Gallagher, this time from point-blank range.
“You’d like to say the goal is to get as far as you can go,” said Harshman of these district playoffs. “If you look at our season and you look at (top seeded) Lower Dauphin’s season, the goal is the district championship game. But we’re going to do that one game at a time. I don’t like to use the term, ‘wake-up call’ because that takes away from the game Elizabethtown played. I thought we played hard.”
Palmyra out shot Elizabethtown 18-4. The Cougars took 13 corners to the Bears’ three.
CLASS AAA FIELD HOCKEY – FIRST ROUND
Lower Dauphin vs. Daniel Boone – Lower Dauphin 6-0
Hempfield vs. Warwick – Warwick 1-0
Penn Manor vs. Governor Mifflin – Penn Manor 3-0
Dallastown vs. Central York – Central York 0-0 (4-3 PK)
Palmyra vs. Elizabethtown – Palmyra 2-1 (OT)
Muhlenberg vs. Cedar Cliff – Cedar Cliff 1-0
Cumberland Valley vs. Conestoga Valley – Cumberland Valley 4-2
Hershey vs. Central Dauphin – Hershey 2-1