BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – They wanted it.
They earned it.
They deserved it.
And in the end, they possessed it.
In a game they dominated from the opening whistle, the Palmyra Cougar field hockey team didn’t fully take ownership of Thursday evening’s District Three Class AA semifinal until 12:22 of overtime had elapsed. That’s when senior Anna Scipioni wheeled and reversed a rocket to the short side to give the Cougars a 2-1 triumph over Donegal, at Hershey High School.
The contest went to a 15-minute, seven-on-seven extra session, after Palmyra had out shot Donegal 15-4 in regulation and had squandered a handful of opportunities, two coming off the stick of Scipioni. In the overtime, the Cougars failed to take advantage of a seven-on-six, five-minute ‘power play’ necessitated by a Donegal yellow card.
The win moved Palmyra to 15-6 overall and into Saturday’s District Three Class AA championship tilt at Milton Hershey. Awaiting the Cougars are 18-1-2 Greenwood, which disposed of Fleetwood 1-0 in the other semi.
It was Palmyra’s fifth straight appearance in the district semifinal, but just the first time in those years that it has advanced. The Indians saw to that the preivous two. Donegal is now 18-5.
“I saw Anna get the ball at the top of the circle,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Harshman. “I heard my dad (assistant coach Kent) say, ‘This is it’. Then I heard the ball hit the back of the cage. It was a reverse shot.”
A flurry of Cougar shots, resulting from a couple of corners with a minute left in regulation, failed to break the 1-1 deadlock. Just nine minutes before that, Scipioni dribbled a penalty stroke into the mid-section of Inidan netminder Alyssa Gower, after being fouled hard in the circle.
And four minutes after halftime, Scipioni carried a ball into the Donegal circle and got off a quick wrister than clanged off the far post. They were all just building up to the inevitable.
“This field is very slippery,” said Harshman. “I think the ball slipped off of her (Scipioni’s) stick. But I wouldn’t want to have anyone else in that situation. And it worked out at the end.
“She (Scipioni) came up big,” Harshman continued. “She’s so solid for us. She and the other seniors are the core of our team. She keeps us together. She redeemed herself.”
Some solid pressure on the Indian cage netted the Cougars a corner and an early 1-0 lead. With 17:49 remaining in the half. Scipioni and Megan Miller executed the old ‘give-and-go’ to perfection. Miller to Scipioni, back to Miller, who one-timed it by GK Gower on the short side.
“I thought we played great,” said Harshman. “We fought hard the entire game. Every single ball was a battle. You could see our girls were prepared. We did a good job of just staying with it.
“Yeah, we’re definitely playing better than we did in the regular season,” added Harshman. “But you have to keep it in perspective. We lost six games and if you look at the (district) seedings it was to the top six seeds in AAA. We played a strong AAA schedule. (During the regular season) we only played two AA teams.”
One of Donegal’s few offensive thrusts occurred ten minutes into the second half, on a counter-attack from the left wing. Karlee Farr carried the ball directly to the Cougar cage, drew defenders to her, then shuffled off a pass to teammate Kathryn Markovits stationed by the far post.
All Markovits had to do was bang it by diving Palmyra netminder Nicole Berger to knot the score at one.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” said Harshman. “We had a tough end to the regular season. But we have fighters. And I love fighters.
“Anything’s a possibility,” Harshman added. “We had a lot of seniors, but we knew we had a lot of players graduate. We lost a couple of All-americans, so we had some big shoes to fill. But we had kids really step up. We’ve got some momentum. I like the momentum.”