Mechanicsburg downs Northern 5-0, moves forward to play Palmyra in District 3 2A semifinal

Mechanicsburg hasn’t yet met its match in the postseason.

The Wildcats have scored 13 goals in two games after defeating Northern 5-0 Saturday in the District 3 Class 2A quarterfinal. They play Palmyra Wednesday in the semifinals.

Northern (16-3-1) will play Ephrata (12-6-1) in the fifth-place bracket. The top six teams in 2A move on to the 2022 PIAA tournament.

Adhering to its playbook, Mechanicsburg (15-3-1) is working hard to stick to its plan of scoring in each quarter, as well as within two minutes of the game. The ‘Cats scored three goals in the first half when they played the Polar Bears.

Lock Haven commit Gracyn Catalano scored two of them and her first within five minutes into the first quarter.

“That first goal was kind of like ‘yes, we got it in there,’” Catalano said. “And then the second goal was like ‘alright this is our game, we’re going to keep playing hard and keep coming at them.’”

The 2022 Mechanicsburg team is much like the 2021 team. They have strong passes and utilize one another instead of one player trying to take on 11 opponents.

Senior Sydney Aylward set up Catalano’s first goal. She drove the ball into the circle and passed to Catalano.

She notched her second goal in the second on a rebound off an Anne Manning zinger. Manning’s power can force almost any keeper off balance.

“I was able to follow that up and knocked that one in too,” Catalano said.

Both goals upped the team’s synergy.

“Going into this game, Northern is a big deal for us because it’s a school rivalry,” she said. “So, (those goals) just took our energy further, and we were able to play better as the game went on.”

The ‘Cats are bottling up energy from game to game and carrying it over as they move forward, Catalano said. Mechanicsburg beat Lampeter-Strasburg 8-0 in round one.

Senior Natalie Wilson was also able to keep the momentum going with just under 4:30 minutes remaining in the first half. Aylward earned an assist on that goal.

Mechanicsburg’s passing sequence, stick to stick, reached Wilson. Wilson “one-timed” the ball into the cage.

“It was a beautiful shot because it was able to go right to the top of the cage,” Catalano said.

Northern, which is not as senior-heavy or as experienced as the 2022 ‘Cats, tried to prepare for the firepower on the Mechanicsburg squad.

“We knew that coming in, Mechanicsburg is going to be really tough,” Northern York head coach Amelia Martire said. “They were tough last year, and their best girls are all seniors. So, we knew it was going to be a hard game.”

The Polar Bears tried to rally in the second half. Their more cohesive play picked up in the third, something Martire said she wished they had done from the start.

Despite the greater intensity, Northern couldn’t execute a second-half comeback. While the third quarter was scoreless, the Polar Bears couldn’t find the cage to cut the deficit.

Wilson and Aylward, once again, in the fourth, converged on Northern’s goalie to extend Mechanicsburg’s security of playing in the tournament’s next round.

Aylward shot from the top of the circle to the left post, where Wilson waited to get the final touch. The score was 4-0.

Only 26 seconds elapsed after the fourth goal before the Wildcats scored its fifth.

“Then right after that, we took the ball down, and Anne Manning took a reverse shot from the low left side,” Catalano said.

Mechanicsburg has seemingly learned how to be a 60-minute team. They aren’t picking one half over the other to play its best hockey. They are starting at the first whistle and going until the last.

“Especially in the first half, our passing was excellent,” Catalano said. “And we were doing a very good job of moving off of each other and working with each other, moving as a team, and getting the ball into the circle to create offensive attacks.”

It’s been a two-year trend of seeing Mechanicsburg pass two to three times before players find themselves in an advantageous position.

“We got a lot of shots off and got to practice a lot of offensive sets that we’ve been working on,” said Mechanicsburg head coach Tonya Brown.

The game wasn’t without physicality. Northern was awarded two green cards, and Mechanicsburg one yellow.

“I don’t like a game when we have any cards, but it happens,” said Martire. “I think they’re passionate, so they go out and play passionate, and sometime sit doesn’t always read well or end well on the field. But they came out, they took it, they didn’t give attitude or anything like that, so I think they took the cards well.”

The game built the ‘Cats confidence, Brown said. That’s good timing considering Mechanicsburg is set for a rematch against its 2A nemesis – Palmyra.

Palmyra (15-2-2) is the No. 1 seed in the Class 2A tournament. They have scored 11 goals in two games.

The ‘Cats fell 1-0 to the Cougars in the regular season. And, then they tied them 1-1 in overtime.

“We are so competitive with them,” Brown said. “We must be aligned with them, like the moon and the stars, that we just always have a really tough game with them.”

As for Catalano, she distinctly remembers last season’s district playoff game where Mechanicsburg beat Palmyra 3-1 in the semifinals.

“It’s kinda déjà vu because it’s at Palmyra again,” she said. “It’s gonna be a really hard game. It’s not going to be over until that last buzzer blows.”

All the seniors know what it takes to defeat the polished Cougars, Catalano said. The two games in the regular season didn’t have the desired outcome.

“So now we’re coming out with a big fire under our butts to hopefully then move on to the district championship,” Catalano said.

Wildcats: 5

  • Goals – Catalano (2), Wilson (2), Manning (1)
  • Assists – Aylward (2)
  • Shots – 9
  • Penalty corners – 4
  • Saves – Alexandra Brady (3)

Polar Bears: 0

  • Goals – 0
  • Assists – 0
  • Shots – 4
  • Penalty corners – 4
  • Saves – Gwenn Baubitiz (4)

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*FAN is headquartered in District 3. We are also following district games statewide. Check back for November postseason coverage.

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