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Palmerton blanks NW

Palmerton field hockey coach Megan Leadbetter knew her team had potential long before the season started.

Over the last several weeks, the Blue Bombers have transformed that potential into production.

On Monday in the Colonial League semifinals at Northern Lehigh High School, Palmerton took another huge step in turning its preseason potential into postseason championships.

The third-seeded Bombers beat second-seeded Northwestern, 3-0, for their 11th victory in their last 12 games. The win earns them a spot in Thursday’s league title game against top-seeded Southern Lehigh.

“This is exactly what I envisioned this team could be like,” said Leadbetter. “So many different players stepping up and contributing.

“We had three different goal scorers tonight, our defense did a great job communicating and shutting down their scorers, and our goalie came up big when we needed her.”

Leadbetter said despite a slow start to the season - the Bombers lost three of their first five games - she knew the potential was there.

“I always knew they were good enough,” she said. “The talent was always there. But once they started to believe in themselves is when we took off as a team. I think you saw tonight how confident we’ve become, and I love it because it’s not cockiness, it just confidence in themselves and each other.”

Palmerton - which began it’s run of success following a 3-2 loss to Northwestern in the first of two regular season meetings back on Sept. 6 -has now beaten the Tigers by a combined 5-0 in their last two meetings.

“We have to be better defensively, and we have to finish our chances offensively,” said Northwestern coach Lissa Opolsky. “But our biggest problem tonight was a total lack of communication on the field.

“We need to be much better in that department. We only had one senior on the field, so maybe that played a role in it, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. At this point in the season, we can’t be making mistakes because we aren’t communicating. That led to our demise tonight.”

After the Tigers controlled play for most of the opening quarter, the Bombers turned to a reliable source to change the game’s momentum. Sydney Frantz - Palmerton’s career leader in both goals and assists - picked up the ball around midfield, outraced the Tiger defense, and blasted a shot into the back of the net for a 1-0 Bomber lead with 1:32 left in the opening quarter.

Northwestern’s best scoring chance came early in the second quarter, but Bomber goalie Sarah Sabo stoned a Tiger forward from point blank range.

“Our defense is so good in front of me that I don’t usually need to make a lot of saves,” said Sabo. “But even if I’m not busy, I try to make sure I’m ready if called upon.

“I make sure to keep my head down, my eyes on the ball, and try to maintain perfect form when I face shots. It can be a pressure-filled position, but I love it. It feels great to get a shutout in a playoff game like this, but I couldn’t have done without my defense.”

With Northwestern pressuring to tie the game in the fourth quarter, Palmerton used a pair of lightning- quick counter attacks to break the game open as Tessa Sander scored with 7:01 remaining to make it 2-0, and Makayla Pengelly added an insurance tally less than four minutes later.

“So many different players keep stepping up for us,” said Leadbetter. “That’s what great teams do. You can’t just rely on one or two players, you need everyone contributing.

“That’s exactly what we are doing. These girls are working hard, playing hard, and doing it for each other. We are playing some really good field hockey right now.”

ROOKIE GOALIE ... Sabo is only a sophomore, and has never played goalie before this season. Leadbetter said Sabo played forward and midfield last year, but the coaching staff wanted to take advantage of her athleticism and outstanding foot work and decided to try her in goal during the preseason. She’s been a stalwart in the Bomber net ever since.

NUMBERS ... Sabo made three saves in the Palmerton goal, while Northwestern’s Emma Yanders had four saves. The Tigers had just one corner in the first three quarters, but had three during the opening minutes of the fourth quarter as they pressed to tie the score. Palmerton had five corners.

UP NEXT ... Palmerton (14-4) and Southern Lehigh (16-2) will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. at Catasauqua for the CL title. Northwestern (13-5) will be off until the start of the district playoffs the week of Oct. 23. The Tigers and Bombers are currently first and second, respectively, in Class 1A.