BY JEFF FALK
HERSEHY – It is difficult to define the true meaning of the Palmyra-Lower Dauphin rivalry.
It is one of the most intense, evenly matched and hotly contested rivalries in all of central Pennsylvania scholastic athletics. It is founded in respect, and almost always produces championships. And even when it doesn’t, there’s still plenty of pride at stake.
But perhaps most importantly, the Palmyra-Lower Dauphin rivalry has the power to turn attention on the under-appreciated sport of field hockey.
The Cougars and Falcons renewed their ‘hostilities’ on Wednesday night at Milton Hershey School’s Henry Hershey Field, in the semifinals of the District Three Class AAA playoffs. And when the on-lookers had exhaled their collective breaths, it was Palmyra which was still standing, with a 2-1 triumph.
In the latest chapter, Palmyra got the better of its rival by making good on its only two shots of the contest. And behind the play of active goalie Cheyenne Sprecher, the Cougars exhibited enough defense to turn away Lower Dauphin.
Third-seded Palmyra, which had already qualified for the PIAA tournament, moved to 21-2 overall and into Saturday’s District Three Class AAA championship game, which will be contested at 3 p.m. back at Henry Hershey Field. The Cougars will be seeking to their 10th overall District Three title, against top-seeded Penn Manor, which dispatched Hershey 4-0 in the other semi.
Palmyra and Penn Manor were tabbed co-state champs after playing last season’s PIAA championship game to a 1-1 draw.
The loss dropped second-seeded Lower Dauphin to 17-3-1 and into Saturday’s third-place game.
Last night marked the third meeting this season between Palmyra and Lower Dauphin. The Falcons prevailed in the first meeting at Hummelstown 3-2, while the Cougars took the rematch 2-1 in Palmyra.
It was also the 13th straight win overall for Palmyra, the reigning Mid-Penn Conference champions.
“I say the same thing every time we played them, they’re a great team and we have a lot of respect for them,” said Palmyra head coach Kristi Costello of the Falcons. “It was a great game. We had two shots and two goals, so we took advantage of our opportunities. It’s an honor just to be able to play for a championship. It says a lot for our district when a game of this caliber is a semifinal.
“We’re happy just to be able to compete with them,” continued Costello. “We just want to give ourselves an opportunity to win. We ended up hanging on, but we competed the whole game. We could possibly see them again.”
Captain Carli Herman netted the eventual game-winner for the Cougars, 11:22 into the second half, and at the time it provided Palmyra with a 2-0 lead.
The play actually originated from a right corner that Herman initiated. Off of her insertion, teammate Jess Dembrowski managed to push the ball towards the goal mouth, and Herman was there to slide it in from a tough angle.
“It does happen,” said Costello of a player inserting a corner and then actually scoring a goal off of it. “It has happened more for us this year. She’s (Herman) been inserting for us, and Jess took the ball off the dribble. Carli got a stick on it.
“These type of games build a lot of character,” Costello continued. “We don’t want to peak too early. Last year (when the Cougars won a state championship), I thought we peaked too early. I was just happy we were able to find a way to end it.”
The Cougars struck first, on a brilliant athletic effort from the prolific Kiley Gallagher, 3:57 into the contest. Quick to a loose ball in the Lower Dauphin circle, Gallagher went left-to-right with her dribble and then smashed a reverse shot against the grain, and into the right side of the Falcon cage.
“It was just phenomenal skill and body control,” said Costello of the Gallagher goal. “She ripped a reverse shot. She’s a great athlete. We ask her to do so many things, all over the field.
“She’s a finisher,” added Costello. “She has a knack for scoring. But there were a lot of girls who stepped up.”
True to itself and the rivalry, Lower Dauphin needed just 1:47 to provide an answer for Herman’s tally. Falcon Rachel Yeager gathered a ball played into the Cougar circle, and going left, fired a reverse shot of her own across her body and into the upper right-hand corner of the Palmyra goal.
It certainly made the final 16:51 interesting.
“Lower Dauphin had us on our heels for the end of the first half,” said Costello, who called two timeouts to help stem the Lower Dauphin tide. “I thought we would be able to get some attacking opportunities. It was a little stressful. We were able to move some people to different positions. At the end, they (her players) were trying to do it by themselves.
“Cheyenne (Sprecher) had an amazing game, just making some huge punches and clearing the ball,” Costello added. “She hasn’t been called upon a lot this year. But she always stays in the game.”
Lower Dauphin ended up out shooting Palmyra 5-2. The Falcons also held a 3-2 edge in penalty corners.
“I don’t think anyone can replace Katie (Dembrowski),” said Costello of her club’s departed emotional leader. “I think the team has taken on a new structure. There’s a group of them, and they know they have to do it together.”
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2015 Palmyra Field Hockey Results
|4:00 PM||W 3-1|
|4:00 PM||W 8-0|
|3:00 PM||W 1-0|
|4:00 PM||W 3-1|
|4:00 PM||W 9-0|
|4:00 PM||W 10-0|
|7:00 PM||L 2-3|
|4:00 PM||W 4-0|
|9:00 AM||W 3-2|
|10:00 AM||L 1-2|
|4:00 PM||W 6-0|
|4:00 PM||W 7-0|
|4:00 PM||W 2-0|
|1:45 PM||W 1-0|
|4:00 PM||W 5-0|
|6:30 PM||W 5-0|
|6:30 PM||W 1-0|
|6:30 PM||W 10-1|
|5:00 PM||W 8-0|
|7:00 PM||W 2-1|
|7:00 PM||W 6-0|
|3:00 PM||W 3-0|
|5:00 PM||W 2-1|
Final Keystone Division Standings