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Bombers advance to title game

WHITEHALL - Senior Celeste Hoffman has had quite a few accomplishments during her field hockey career at Palmerton.

Monday night at the Zephyrs Sports Complex at Whitehall High School, she added one of her biggest.

Hoffman scored three goals in the third quarter as the Blue Bombers defeated Moravian Academy, 6-3. in the District 11 Class 1A semifinals.

The victory propels Palmerton into Thursday’s district title game against Northwestern.

“We had the past two days off, they weren’t planned, but they did okay with it. I saw it as devastating, but they probably enjoyed the time off,” said Palmerton coach Megan Leadbetter. “I think it took them a little bit to get used to the cold and everything going on. When Moravian got that first goal though, I think it lit a bit of a fire for us.”

It took a while for both teams to get into a flow early in the game, but it was Moravian Academy that got on the board first when Megan Dadio played a shot off a corner and put it into the top corner of the cage with 6:35 left in the first quarter.

The fire continued to build until four minutes after Moravian went up 1-0, Makayla Pengelly took an assist from Tessa Sander and was able to put it past goalkeeper Alizeh Ali to knot the game with 5:23 left in the opening quarter.

Pengelly scored her second goal of the night, and Sander got her second assist to open the scoring in the second quarter and give Palmerton its first lead at 2-1. The Blue Bombers then took advantage of a corner with Mackenzie Long, who took a pass from Sydney Frantz, making it a 3-1 game.

“We played like a team tonight, playing stick to stick, and our passing was vital,” said Pengelly about her team’s play. “We were just hungry here and never satisfied. Even if we just got a goal, we wanted another and were there to pick each other up.”

Before the first half would end, Moravian Academy took advantage of a corner of its own when Rylin Becker was able to get a shot past goalie Sarah Sabo to cut the lead to 3-2 at halftime.

The third quarter belonged to Hoffman, who scored three times - once early, another near the middle of the quarter, and one late - to give Palmerton a commanding 6-2 lead.

“This is probably one of the best teams I have played with,” said Hoffman, who is in her senior season. “My sophomore season we were really good when we won districts, but this team is really good, too. This team has the chance to win districts and go further because we are that good.”

Palmerton focused on defense in the final quarter, but Moravian made the most of its limited opportunities. The Lions saw one shot go off the crossbar, and then Dadio got her second goal of the night to cut the Bombers lead to 6-3.

From there, the Palmerton defense shut down the Lions over the final 10 minutes.

“We felt they would definitely be looking for revenge and we were really nervous, to be honest,” said Hoffman. “We played well as a team and overall, everyone just did an amazing job.”

THREE FOR THREE … Palmerton and Moravian Academy met in the regular season finale, and also played in the opening round of the Colonial League tournament. The Bombers won both of those games, eliminating Moravian Academy from the league tournament. After playing twice more in the league tournament, Palmerton had a bye in the district quarterfinals, making Monday night their first game of districts, meaning three of their last five games have been against the Lions - all Bomber victories.

BACK AGAIN … The Blue Bombers are back in the district finals after a one-year absence. They were district champions in 2021 when they beat Palisades 3-0.

STATE TOURNAMENT BERTH … By virtue of reaching the district final, Palmerton qualifies for the PIAA tournament which begins next week.

Palmerton's Mackenzie Long (left) tries to get around Moravian Academy's Rylin Becker during Monday's District 11 Class 1A semifinal game. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS