HERSHEY - In order to win a state championship, everything -- absolutely everything -- has to go perfectly.
In short, you've got to be both lucky and good. All the time.
It took less than 10 minutes of its first-round state playoff matchup with Gwynedd Mercy Academy for the Palmyra field hockey team to find out the luck part of it simply wasn't going to happen.
A cruel twist of fate in the form of an apparent broken wrist suffered by star midfielder Katie Dembrowski combined with a quality opponent in Gwynedd Mercy added up to the end of Palmyra's season on Tuesday night in a 2-1 PIAA Class AA opening-round setback at Milton Hershey.
Riding high at 21-1 and fresh off their seventh District Three Class AA championship since 2001 heading into the contest, the Cougars' were brought back to earth a little less than 10 minutes into the first half when Dembrowski fell hard to the turf, then let out a shriek of agony after significantly injuring her wrist.
Despite being shaken by seeing their junior catalyst in pain and ultimately taken off the field in a cart, the Cougars responded in short order on Kendall Kreider's rebound goal with 20:21 left in the half, the first score of the night.
But aggressive and physical Gwynedd bounced back with two Nicole Catalino goals late in the first half and held on from there behind stellar goalie play from Ava Rosati for a win that ended Palmyra's season and its once-realistic state title dreams.
"It just didn't go our way," said a somber Palmyra coach Kristi Costello, whose squad came up with plenty of near-misses in a second-half bid to tie and/or go ahead. "So many opportunities, so many (missed scoring) chances, people getting injured. Just things outside of our control. It takes a little bit of fate, and we didn't have that today."
One thing the Cougars did have, though, was heart. And plenty of it, something that was exemplified by starting midfielder Kylie Huffman battling through an ankle injury that sidelined her for part of the first half and left her a bit gimpy when she was on the field.
And though it simply couldn't get another shot past Rosati -- whose shining moment came when she stoned a Carli Herman penalty stroke with 19:49 left -- the Cougars spent a good portion of the second half swarming around Gwynedd Mercy's defensive circle.
Most of the buzzing was done by Dembrowski's midfield mates -- Megan Miller and Kendall Kreider -- as well as Jess Dembrowski, Kiley Gallagher and Erin Huffman on the forward line. Fate, however, kept sending balls into Rosati's pads or left or right of the cage.
"Our team was crushed when we lost Katie," said Costello, choking back tears. "They were just really shook up, but I think they came together well and scored that rebound goal right away, which was awesome. But I think as the game started to wear on -- each timeout, at halftime -- kids were still shook up.
"They're still 14- to 18-year-old kids, and that was tough for them. But I think they played their hearts out for Katie and each other, so I'm proud of that."
"I feel really bad about that," Gwynedd Mercy coach Sue Persichetti said of the injury to Dembrowski. "We really didn't know their players, so I didn't really know what they were losing, but whenever anybody gets hurt, it's not a good thing."
Many of the Cougars collapsed in tears when it was over but until the scoreboard clock showed all zeros, they were steely-eyed and determined.
In fact, right down to the last seconds, Palmyra was still deep in Gwynedd Mercy's defensive zone looking to put a shot on goal or force a penalty corner that would extend the game and their time together as a team.
"Even in the last couple seconds, we had a shot at a goal," Costello said proudly. "I just told them that I'm proud of them. Each one of them gave me everything they had, all season but especially tonight after Katie went down. You really saw every single player trying the best they could, and that's all you can ask for as a coach. I thought they dealt with the adversity as best they could.
"Again, things didn't go our way. It takes a little bit of fate, and tonight we didn't have it."
Note >> Gwynedd Mercy moves on to Saturday's second round against Archbishop Carroll, a 3-0 winner over Lancaster Mennonite on Tuesday.