PALMYRA – The Palmyra boys are on pace to become the winningest team in the history of Lebanon County lacrosse. That feat would be as impressive – or unimpressive – as it may sound.
On Tuesday evening at In The Net Sports Complex, the Cougars hit a bump on the road to becoming the most successful squad ever in the locale’s newest scholastic sport. Palmyra fought back from one deficit, but couldn’t recover from another, before falling to the Polar Bears of Northern York, 12-10.
The Cougars’ inability to win the face-offs following goals proved to be their downfall, as Northern used extended possessions to tally goals in bunches and open leads as great as five and six. Down 12-7, Palmyra netted three goals in the game’s final 1:27, but never seriously threatened the result.
The outcome left the Cougars 6-3 overall and 2-2 in the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference. The Polar Bears moved to 4-1 on the season and 2-1 in the circuit.
“It’s going good,” said Palmyra head coach Jeff Gatano of his squad’s spring. “We had six wins two years ago and we had seven wins last year. I definitely want to go .500 and get ten or 12 wins. The most we’ve ever had was 11. We have a couple of tough games coming up, so we have to pick it up.
“We just have to work harder,” Gatano added. “And we’ve got to stop the slow starts. The slow starts are killing us.”
In many ways, Palmyra experienced two slow starts yesterday. The second one represented the beginning of the second half, after the teams had gone to halftime tied at three.
But in the opening five minutes of the third period, Northern York tallied four unanswered goals to open a 7-3 it would never relinquish. The Polar Bears exited the stanza with a 9-4 advantage, in part because of four unassisted goals from sniper John Gamber and their dominance in the face-off circle at midfield.
“Them getting up five after three periods, it’s tough to come back,” said Gatano of the Polar Bears. “We tried to lock Gamber off, but he kept getting free. Coming in, we wanted to try to slow him down. But I’m sure they were trying to slow Evan (Cougar Downey) down too.
“He’s (Gamber) fast,” Gatano continued. “He’s got both hands. He has a good shot. We were trying to lock him off and trying to deny him the ball.”
The Polar Bears needed 56 seconds of clock to grab a 1-0 lead, and by winning the next two face-offs, possessed the ball in the Palmyra zone for the initial 3:38 of the contest. And during that time, Northern York potted two additional goals to open a 3-0 advantage.
The Cougars finally broke through with 2:29 left in the first period when Joey Hes turned extended pressure and a feed from Colin Fullmer into a goal. Then seven seconds before the end of quarter, Fullmer and Hess reversed roles to pull Palmyra within 3-2.
And when Connor Blade picked up a rebound in front of the Polar Bear net and converted it, the Cougars had come all the way back to knot the score at three.
“Those face-offs are very important,” said Gatano. “If you win face-offs after goals you get possession of the ball. We have not been doing well with them. We’ve been struggling with face-offs. I think they (the Polar Bears) scored two or three of their goals before we got possession again.”
Down 10-4 early in the final quarter, Palmyra scored three goals in a span of 3:08 to pull within three goals of Northern York. Hess, Hes, then Jonathan Bernhard tickled the twines for the Cougars.
But the Polar Bears answered that spurt with two goals of their own, to open a 12-7 advantage, with 4:23 to go.
Hess totaled four Cougar goals and an assist, while Bernhard collected a pair of tallies and three helpers. Downey, the most prolific scorer in the Mid-Penn Conference, was limited to a single assist.
“Our offense goes through him,” said Gatano of Downey. “We try not to depend on him too much, but he’s such a talented player. Evan and Gamber, they’re very similar players.
“We started off slow and just couldn’t get out of the hole,” added Gatano. “We came on strong at the end, but it’s tough to come back. We’ve been having slow starts all year, and if you fall behind, you’ve got to fight back.”