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Mechanicsburg put a dent in Palmyra’s 2-0 lead in the fourth quarter Wednesday, but the late goal wasn’t enough.
The Wildcats fell 2-1 to the No. 1 seed in District 3 Class 2A semifinal. The Cougars move forward to play Hershey Saturday.
“I was feeling really anxious, but obviously we were still up by one,” said senior Avery Russell, who scored the game winner for Palmyra. “We still had the lead. I think as a team, we just wanted to keep possession of the ball. That was our main focus in the last few minutes of the game.”
When Mechanicsburg scored, Russell said her team knew they had to focus on the basics. There were under five minutes remaining.
The game’s tempo was already fast, but with enough time to score several goals, Palmyra and Mechanicsburg hammered harder. The Cougars wanted one more insurance goal and the ‘Cats wanted a tie.
“We huddled after that goal and we talked about slowing the game down,” senior Alicia Battistelli said. “We’re up by one, so obviously we can use that to our advantage. We talked about valuing possession. And, just keeping the ball on our offensive 25 as much as possible.”
Palmyra burned time by transferring the ball and holding onto it. Senior Katie Lintz maintained possession for about 15 seconds near the corner flag in the Cougar’s attack before Mechanicsburg’s double team forced the ball over the endline. Palmyra kept possession.
The energy in the final five minutes was just slightly above the intensity level of the entire game.
“We’re on a high right now,” Battistelli said after the game. “It was really fun. I think the intensity was really good. I’m just so proud of my teammates and how we always come together to win.”
The Cougars were “relentless on the ball,” she said.
“There were a lot of 50-50 balls out there,” the University of Vermont commit said. “And, I think just trying to be first to every ball, to get that first touch, and just not giving up no matter what. We were just ferocious all over the field.”
Palmyra scored first in the third quarter. Senior Olivia Kirkpatrick, one of the most skilled players in the Mid-Penn Conference, delivered one of her signature aerial balls on goal. She used her skill effectively on a corner.
Once in the air, the Cougars positioned themselves for the goal – Keely Bowers on one post and Battistelli on the other. Bowers tapped the ball in the air over to Battistelli who pounded the ball toward the ground into the cage.
Two minutes and 30 seconds later, Palmyra earned another corner. The play was broken up, but the ball didn’t leave the circle.
It ended up going left of the Wildcat’s keeper Alexandra Brady. Russell was a few feet away, where she had time, space, and the angle to slam the ball into the lower right of the cage.
“We’re always working on rebounds at practice,” Russell said.
As the clock was winding down, Bowers was noticeably amped up. Her coach told her to hit the brakes on a free hit along the sideline.
“I mean, I really didn’t want to, but I did, because I understood the situation,” she said. “We had a decent amount of time left on the clock, but we wanted to slow it down because we didn’t want them to score again. So…just playing smart hockey.”
Both Russell and Bowers agree that they want to get back at Hershey in the next game.
“I’m excited to get revenge,” Russell said laughing.
Palmyra and Hershey split their games this fall in the regular season. Palmyra won the first game and Hershey the second.
The competition against Mechanicsburg, it was just as “tough,” Battistelli said. Looking ahead to the final District 3 round, the senior captain said the team is going to be “mentally and physically prepared.”
“We’re just excited to be out there on the field again,” she said.
Palmyra will be watching film Thursday and moving forward, head coach Kent Harshman said.
“We’re getting more dangerous and that’s good,” he said. “Now’s the time to be getting that way.”
The Cougars are honing their ball execution strategies, he said. The team’s depth is in its fitness.
“I thought our pressure picked up in the second half,” Harshman said. “That’s not to say we played poorly in the first half. That’s to say Mechanicsburg matched us in the first half.”
Mechanicsburg’s center back played an “outstanding” game, he said.
“They weren’t giving us much. But I think just that overall pressure, if you keep that pressure up, you just keep going and going and going at it. And, you never let up, you draw those corners, and you get those corners.”
He continued: “We played well in the middle of the field. They like to rip the ball on us. Everybody likes to play blast ball against Palmyra because Palmyra has a reputation of being a passing team and they can’t stop the driven ball, and stuff like that. And I think we did that very well tonight. I think it was not only the corners that got us started and the pressure down here inside the 25 in the second half, but overall, the defense. I thought the defense did great turning the ball over and going the other way.”
Mechanicsburg will play Twin Valley for third. The top six teams in Class 2A will go to the 2022 PIAA state tournament. The seeding is to be determined, but the District 3 teams include Palmyra, Hershey, Mechanicsburg, Twin Valley, Northern, and Manheim Central. Four of the teams are from the Mid-Penn Conference.
For the Wildcat’s, center back Casey Tyrell stood out the entire game. She was constantly in motion to find the biggest threat inside the circle.
“Casey has been that way for us all this time,” Mechanicsburg head coach Tonya Brown said. “You see these fast feet coming and she gets them squared, around, and then she’ll have the ball going down one side or the other. She gets the ball to Syd (Aylward), who really jukes some people out. She had (Palmyra) on her back the entire game, but it didn’t bother her one bit. I thought she played a great game distributing the ball from the middle.”
And had it not been for Alana Shimp, Mechanicsburg may not have scored. Shimp was back-up on a corner. The ball went beyond the top of the circle ending the corner. Shimp sent the ball back into the ‘Cats attack circle. She hung onto the ball at a critical moment, Brown said.
“She got it to Cam Standish, who busted through the middle,” she said.
Natalie Wilson scored the lone goal on that play for the ‘Cats.
Sulking, being mad, and even crying was temporarily allowed, Brown said.
“They can do whatever, but when their feet hit the floor (Thursday), we go get ready for Twin Valley,” she said. “It’s that simple. Get the three seed and then come Tuesday, it’s 0-0 again. This league gets you ready for states. Any one of us can get to the finals. So, it all depends on where we’re at in the bracket.”
- Goals – Battistelli (1), Russell (1)
- Assists – Bowers (1)
- Shots – 4
- Penalty corners – 8
- Saves – Haleigh Lambert (5)
- Goals – Wilson (1)
- Assists – 0
- Shots – 6
- Penalty corners – 4
- Saves – Brady (2)
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*FAN is headquartered in District 3. We are also following district games statewide. Check back for November postseason coverage.