Give Mechanicsburg’s hustling Wildcats a chance to grab the Mid-Penn Keystone Division championship — or at least a share of the eight-team league’s slippery title — and Tony Lougee’s hard-working club is going to chase after that available hardware with plenty of gusto.
Just like they did Monday night.
Getting three goals from Dean Patton and one from Joseph Panuccio — Ryan Wolf chipped in two assists and rarely tested keeper Erik Hanson needed to make just two saves — Lougee’s Wildcats collared a share of the Keystone lead by drilling Palmyra 4-0 Monday night at the Northside Cage.
Should Mechanicsburg (14-3, 11-2) down Middletown Tuesday night and Keystone co-leader Lower Dauphin defeats Susquehanna Twp., the Wildcats and LD will square off in a playoff game to determine the Mid-Penn tournament participant Wednesday afternoon at Hershey High School.
If Tuesday’s results don’t turn out the same — on both ends — well, we’ll have a champ. If they do turn out identically, we’ll have co-champs …
First things first.
Facing the same Palmyra side (8-9, 7-6) that upended Lower Dauphin on Saturday and set up the possibility for a shared Keystone championship, Lougee’s Wildcats came out with their standard want-to and simply waffled Craig Tyrrell’s club with an early salvo that lasted just over five minutes.
Patton collected both of the early scores, turning a Wolf cross into a bell ringer that clipped the left upright and scooted across the goal mouth with just 2:52 gone. Then, at the 5:26 mark, Wolf’s blast from the left side of the box was slowed by beleaguered Palmyra keeper Garrett Swope (13 saves).
Patton neatly tapped in the sitter.
A share of the Keystone lead was on its way.
“That is a burden that’s in the backs of our minds, but we just try to take it one game at a time,” Patton said. “Palmyra’s a great rival for us, always are, so we just tried to take it to them.
“[The Keystone Division title] definitely is a concern for us, but being our last home game we just wanted to end off our regular season on a strong point. And I think we did that.”
“We had a lot of energy because of what happened the last time we played them,” added senior midfielder Josh Smith, referring to the Wildcats’ 3-1 win over Palmyra on Sept. 24 at In The Net.
“We played well, but we didn’t get to use the width of the field — so we knew we could come out on our own field, get into the corners like Ryan Wolf did and get some of those crosses across. And that’s what really helped us open up the game and we got those two early goals.
“Once we got those, we just kept pushing until we got two more and it just happened,” Smith continued. “Just worked hard.”
And while Mechanicsburg kept the ball in the Cougars’ end for much of the opening half — tormenting Swope and his buddies in the defensive backfield — the Wildcats were unable to expand on their early success.
At least not right away.
Plus, the Wildcats’ early success prevented Palmyra from getting its systematic high-possession attack cranked up. Tough to rely on build-up and ball movement with the other guys already in charge.
“Knowing they had come off a big win Saturday and knowing that everyone’s playing [Tuesday] night, if we could get ourselves going a little bit we might be able to take advantage of that here at home,” Lougee said.
“I thought the guys did a nice job. We got up on them the first game and sort of just really let them play their game. Today, even though we didn’t get the third one for a while, we kept attacking.”
And attacking and attacking and …
“We just try to work and work and get at teams until we wear them down,” Patton admitted. “We feel like that’s what we’re best at. We have a great group of guys who just don’t stop working, who just hustle their butts off.”
‘”They came in confident and ready to play,” Tyrrell said. “And it showed. You could see it. The movement, the ball, it really showed. It’s to their credit, so you’ve gotta applaud them for that.”
And while Tyrrell wasn’t ready to offer a rousing hand or two at the halftime break, he was pleased to still be in the game — and possessing hope.
“I was, actually,” Tyrrell admitted. “When I looked at the scoreboard and it said 2-0, I was like, ‘OK.’ Maybe if we can keep going, we might get a chance we can finish.”
Patton, after fielding a nice diagonal ball from Panuccio that enabled him to find space near the edge of the penalty area, buried a clinical strike that just missed the underside of the crossbar early in the second half (1:12) to squash any Palmyra hopes and feed the Wildcats’ machine.
“He hit a good ball,” a complimentary Lougee said. “Dean had a heck of a game, didn’t he? He’s just had such a great year.
“He’s just such a great kid. He just works so hard.”
They all do.
Whether it’s the trio of Patton, Wolf and Logan DeNicola up front — or the reserve combo of Zach Sherman, Brad Powell and Zach Heller that checks to offer the starters a breather while keeping the tempo at a full boil.
Midfielders Smith, Panuccio and Joe Lewis also stay keenly linked to the forwards, adding pop to Mechanicsburg’s transition game. And a solid group of defenders — Matt Strauch, Mike Fowler, Zach Brunner, Reed Alioth, Casey Conner and Sean Lein — cleaned up whatever happened to slip through.
Which wasn’t much.
In fact, Hanson really didn’t have much work to do. Certainly nothing that really presented any danger to the Wildcats’ lead or his shutout bid.
“They were much, much better than we were this evening,” Tyrrell said. “Probably one of the best teams we’ve seen the whole season.”
And once Panuccio connected with 14 minutes to play after freeing himself for a nice right-footed rip that added even more security to a sizable cushion, a Mechanicsburg side that does a really nice job keeping things in perspective — and in the moment — was ready to accept its next challenge.
“Move on to the next one,” Patton said. “We have a pretty long week if everything goes well, but we need to take it just one game at a time.”
“I thought we played exactly with the right tempo and attitude,” said Lougee, whose ballclub outshot the Cougars 29-3.
“I thought they handled themselves well. I thought the guys moved the ball around pretty well to start the game, which was important to keep that possession and create good chances.”
Next stop: Middletown’s Memorial Field.
“We can’t overlook Middletown,” Smith said. “Didn’t they just knock off Hershey?”
And while Middletown will be squarely in Mechanicsburg’s highly focused sights, Palmyra will visit Hershey Tuesday night, its own hopes for a District 3-AA playoff berth parked squarely on any number of lines.
“We need to win that one to at least give ourselves a chance,” Tyrrell said. “So we’re both fighting for it.”
For the full article by Mike Bullock click here.