BY JEFF FALK
STATE COLLEGE – This Palmyra squad will be the new standard by which all future teams will be measured. The only problem is that the bar is fluid – it keeps going up.
On a sunny Saturday evening at State College’s Memorial Field, the finest season in the growing history of Lebanon County boys’ lacrosse came to an end when the Cougars dropped a 13-6 decision to Mars, in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs. Although the outcome was much closer than the final score might suggest, Palmyra never quite recovered from the three-goal hole it fell into in the opening quarter.
The result ended the Cougars’ season at 22-3. Along the way, Palmyra captured the Mid-Penn Conference championship, finished second in the District Three Class AA tournament and advanced further than any other local boys’ lacrosse team had before.
Senior Grant Haus tallied four times for the Cougars, while teammates Jake Herman and Bryson Russell each contributed a goal and two assists.
The victory made Mars, the District Seven champion, 20-1 and a PIAA Class AA semifinalist.
“We had a great season,” said Palmyra head coach Dave Ondrusek. “We made it the state quarterfinals. No other team has ever done that. Every year we improve. You don’t want to get too down. One game does not reflect a whole season.
“We’ve always set the expectations of winning the league, winning the district and winning states,” Ondrusek continued. “That’s the goal we have every year. If we set our sights any lower than that, we would be doing a disservice to ourselves.”
Palmyra led only once all evening, and it was for a mere eight seconds.
The Cougars grabbed a 1-0 lead 40 seconds into the fray, on their first possession and on their first shot. From the right side of the field, Bryson Russell’s mid-range attempt was true.
But on the ensuing face-off, Mars sparkplug Andrew Moyer won it and sprinted through the heart of the Palmyra defense to score. Not only did the goal knot the game at one, it touched off four unanswered scores by the Fighting Planets.
“We fed into their style of play, unfortunately,” said Ondrusek of the Fighting Planets. “We had a game plan for them. It (what Palmyra got from them) was nothing we hadn’t seen on film. They just executed their game plan very well.
“We made some adjustments at halftime to get close,” continued Ondrusek. “But as it got towards the end, we tired out. When they play 41 and we play 19 (players) it makes it difficult to play for 48 minutes.”
The score remained 4-1 until midway through the second stanza, when Haus struck for the first of his four. From the left side, Haus unleashed a ten-yarder that beat Mars goalie Will Scurci through the wickets.
But the Fighting Planets responded with a pair of goals 1:02 apart to carry a 6-2 advantage to the break.
“They dominated the face-offs,” said Ondrusek. “It’s hard to compete with a team that dominates the face-offs. We had no answers. They had a good faceoff guy. We wore down, and we committed a lot of penalties. We definitely hurt ourselves in that respect.
“If we play them ten times, I think it’s five-five,” added Ondrusek. “The mistakes we made tonight were due to a long season and not a lot of players. I think we’re competitive with them. Once we got it to 9-6, we started making big mental mistakes.”
Two minutes and 36 seconds into the second half, Haus pulled Palmyra to within 6-3, with a goal from the top and straightway. Haus also registered a goal with 31 seconds left in the third period – by cutting hard to the net – but it came after Mars had netted a pair of its own to make it 8-3.
“There’s no superstar on their team,” said Ondrusek of the Fighting Planets. “They play well from top to bottom and they play well together. They’ve been playing together for years. They know each others moves. They know how to move the ball.”
Palmyra got goals from Herman and Haus in the fourth quarter to move to within 9-6 of the lead. Yet it would prove to be the Cougars’ last gasp.
First, Herman came from behind the net to score from the right wing. Then Haus beat Scurci with a low shot from eight yards out, for the 140th goal of his career.
But Mars scored four times in a span of 3:05 to put the outcome on ice.
“What they should be taking away is 22-3,” said Ondrusek of his charges. “We tied the program record for wins in a season. There’s only eight (Class AA) teams in the state still playing, and we’re one of them. They’re all positives to take away. There’s no reason to hang your head. We accomplished a lot this year.”
Mars finished with a slight 30-25 edge in shots at goal. The Cougars were whistled for ten penalties compared to five for the Fighting Planets.
“This is a classy team,” said Ondrusek. “We’ve been complimented by other coaches about our sportsmanship. I’m proud of that.
“We lose four seniors, and three of them are starters,” concluded Ondrusek. “We bring back almost everybody. And the youth level is producing a lot more.”
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2018 Palmyra Boys’ Lacrosse Results
|4:15 PM||W 13-5|
|4:15 PM||W 17-3|
|4:15 PM||W 16-5|
|4:15 PM||W 14-4|
|5:45 PM||W 17-3|
|6:45 PM||W 19-3|
|4:15 PM||W 15-0|
|4:15 PM||W 13-5|
|10:00 AM||W 17-1|
|4:15 PM||W 19-1|
|7:30 PM||W 18-0|
|4:15 PM||W 12-2|
|7:00 PM||L 3-11|
|7:00 PM||W 10-2|
|10:00 AM||W 9-4|
|4:15 PM||W 11-2|
|4:15 PM||W 18-3|
|4:15 PM||W 8-7|
|8:00 PM||W 7-6|
|7:00 PM||W 16-3|
|7:00 PM||W 15-1|
|5:00 PM||W 17-5|
|5:00 PM||L 10-11|
|6:00 PM||W 7-5|
|5:00 PM||L 6-13|