BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – It has a long way to go to match the success of a certain boys’ soccer program on the other side of the County. But slowly and routinely, Palmyra is establishing its own history in the sport.
On Wednesday night at Buck Swank Stadium, the Cougars made their fifth straight appearance in the District Three Class AA tournament a successful one. Behind the dynamic scoring duo of seniors Bret Haldeman and Christian Rhine, Palmyra handled Brandywine Heights 4-2 in a Round of 16 match.
Rhine and Haldeman each notched a couple of goals, as Palmyra opened a 4-0 bulge midway through the second half. Rhine netted his pair in a six-minute span just after halftime to expand a 1-0 edge.
With the win, fourth-seeded Palmyra, which was coming off a 4-0 loss to Gettysburg in the Mid-Penn Conference playoffs, moved to 15-5 and into Saturday’s quarterfinal round, against the winner of Susquehannock and Berks Catholic. Brandywine Heights, the 20th seed, ended its season at 10-9.
“It’s just another year,” said Palmyra head coach Craig Tyrrell, who was an assistant on the Cougars’ 2007 PIAA Class AA championship team. “It’s good for the program. It just says a lot about the integrity of the players we have. They embrace the things we try to get through to them.”
A mere 1:24 after the break, Palmyra picked up some insurance.
Cougar captain Pat Hanosek initiated a rush up the left sideline, drew a Bullet defender to him, then slid a ball past him to a wide-open Rhine. With all the time in the world, Rhine took one touch and flicked the ball to the far post.
A few minutes later, Rhine didn’t need any help to make it 3-0. After fighting BH keeper Chris Langston for a loose ball and shielding him off with his body, Rhine took a diagonal touch before slipping ball along the ground into the unattended goal.
“I thought the first goal in the second half took some air out of them,” said Tyrrell. “The key was not giving up a goal after that. We’ve been scoring quite a lot of goals this year. We have some firepower. We have some guys who can finish well.
“I thought we did well,” Tyrrell continued. “We’ve been working on moving off the ball in practice. In the first half, we were a little too impatient. After recognizing it, we were getting runs off the ball. And we were a little more patient.”
After drawing iron on a penalty kick a minute earlier, Haldeman got the Cougars on the scoreboard with 6:01 left in the first half.
Haldeman, Langston and a Bullet defender converged on a loose ball in the middle of the field. It was Haldeman who managed to get the biggest piece of the ball, as he chipped it past Langston, stayed with it and banged it into the unattended net.
“Our season went well,” said Tyrrell. “We’re 15-5 and won our division (in the Mid-Penn). The games we lost were close games. I’ve been pleased with the performance all year.
“Right now, the goal is just to get through the district and get to the final,” Tyrrell added. “For them (his players) it’s to win it all. That’s what they’re shooting for. That’s what they want.”
With 16:56 to play and some the Palmyra starters on the bench, Haldeman was set up for an easy finish by a great cross from Evan Downey. With Brandywine Heights defenders seemingly draped all over him, Downey somehow managed to send the ball from the left to a wide-open Haldeman.
“Not to take anything away from other teams, but these guys listen,” said Tyrrell. “They go out and react to what we said. They put it on the field. It makes you feel good to know they’re listening to what you say.”
Brandywine Heights scored twice in the final 12:32. But the reason Tyrrell returned most of his senior starters to the pitch was to afford them the opportunity to finish their final game at Buck Swank Stadium on the field.
“No, not really,” said Tyrrell, when asked if was concerned. “I thought was going to give some of the younger guys on the bench a chance to play in their first district game. I wanted to get the older guys because it was their last game here.”
Palmyra out shot Brandywine Heights, 20-7. The Cougars were awarded six corner kicks to the Bullets’ one.