HUMMELSTOWN — Eastern York boys' lacrosse coach Michael Particelli is convinced his team had the talent to be more than a 10-win club in the regular season.
Unfortunately, in a few games, losing the turnover battle turned potential wins into tough losses, preventing the Golden Knights from being a 13- or 14-win outfit.
Facing top-seeded Palmyra in Tuesday's District 3 Class 2-A semifinal at Lower Dauphin Middle School, ball control was going to be essential for 12th-seeded Eastern to stay with the up-tempo Cougars. Instead, carelessness with the ball plagued the Golden Knights again, leading to an offensive onslaught by Palmyra en route to the Cougars' 21-6 win. That sent Eastern into Thursday's third-place game.
"Turnovers always kill us," Particelli said. "When we control the ball and don't turn it over, we do fine."
Through the first quarter, the Golden Knights (12-8) looked like they would dodge any major problems. They routinely gave possession back to Palmyra (21-1), but timely saves by goalie Kevin Royce and steady defense held the lethal Cougars' attack to just two goals in the opening 12 minutes. That put Eastern in a manageable 2-0 hole after one quarter.
However, the Golden Knights couldn't shake the turnover bug, handing possession over to Palmyra on their first three possessions of the second quarter without getting off a shot. Each time, the Cougars made Eastern pay, eventually stretching the lead to 5-0 three minutes into the second quarter before Dom Particelli finally got the Knights on the board.
The Eastern goal was only a minor disturbance in Palmyra's momentum. The Cougars continued to dominate both sides of the ball, ultimately wearing down the Knights' defense and carrying a 10-2 lead into the halftime break.
"Offensively, we couldn't click tonight," senior midfielder Jimmy Kurnik said. "We only had 15 shots and they had 55. When we would dodge, they would slide and we couldn't get open. Sometimes we'd throw a bad pass and sometimes we forced it. I would say turnovers were definitely a huge part, but I felt like we could've kept ourselves in the game due to our defensive and goalie performance if we would've stepped it up offensively."
While the offense found a little more success in the third quarter, it wasn't enough to even remotely slow down Palmyra's attack. By the end of the third quarter, the Cougars led by 11 and stretched the lead out to 15 by the end of the game, eventually earning a running clock for most of the fourth quarter.
"Tonight, we just faced a better team," coach Particelli said. "They were better than us. My hats off to them. Great coach, great bunch of kids and they're talented. They're going to be tough to beat."
Despite the lopsided score, Royce made 13 saves in the cage for Eastern, while Kurnik had two goals and an assist to lead the Knights with three points. Particelli finished with two goals.
Palmyra got a huge game from Grant Haus, who scored eight goals, while Ethan Gain had four goals and two assists and Kyle Nolen finished with three goals and two assists.
Even though Eastern's unlikely run for a gold medal was halted, it'll still play in Thursday's third-place game and has already sewn up a spot in the PIAA state tournament.
Thursday's consolation game will be played at 5 p.m. at Cumberland Valley Middle School against No. 10 Lower Dauphin, which fell to third-seeded Hershey in the other semifinal, 12-8.
York Catholic 16, York Suburban 11: At Glen Rock, in an all-York County battle, the second-seeded Fighting Irish got the best of the 11th-seeded Trojans in a District 3 Class 2-A consolation semifinal. York Catholic improved to 15-5 and advanced to the District 3 2-A fifth-place game on Thursday against fourth-seeded Trinity (14-6) at a site and time to be determined. The winner of that game will advance to the PIAA 2-A state playoffs. Suburban finished at 10-7.
Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com.