GETTYSBURG – In the playoffs, the advantage goes to the aggressor. And if a team can harness that aggression, channel it and control it, well that makes it a tough ‘out’.
On Tuesday night at Gettysburg High School, in the opening round of the District Three Class AAA postseason, the Palmyra’s boys’ basketball team’s ability to attack intelligently, even when it had the lead, proved decisive in a 66-61 triumph over the home-standing Warriors. After Adam Newhard had given the Cougars a 59-57 lead with 2:19 to go, Palmyra just kept coming and coming.
Two other Cougar teammates followed Newhard’s lead down the stretch- Logan Stovall and Brad Mackey. Stovall’s old-fashioned three-point play with 1:26 left amped Palmyra’s lead to 62-57, then with 36 seconds remaining Mackey put his own personal spin on the three-point play, to up the Cougars’ advantage to 65-61, all but sealing the outcome.
The victory, its second such in this particular round of the District Three Class AAA tournament in as many years, propelled 12th-seeded and now 16-7 Palmyra into Friday’s quarterfinal round opposite 13th-seeded Boiling Springs, which upset number-four Steel-High, 69-64. That particular contest will go down at 7:30 p.m. at Carlisle High School.
Because District Three sends its top seven Class AAA finishers to the PIAA postseason, the win assured the Cougars of at least three more games this season. Gettysburg was bounced from the proceedings with a 16-8 mark.
“What we talked about in that situation was, ‘We’re shooting a lay-up when we’re up,'” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad. “You can take away the kids’ ability to attack. There were games when we were up and stopped.
“I think some of it had to do with our experience,” added Conrad. “We are very fortunate to have all these seniors who play in these situations before. Both coaches had their seat belts on them, as the kids made big play after big play.”
“We were bickering a little bit in the first half,” said Mackey, who poured in a career-high 16 points in his first varsity playoff experience. “But coach told us at halftime, “Let’s bring it together and play like this was going to be the last time we played.'”
A three-pointer from Baker early in the final stanza gave the Cougars a 48-43 edge, but the Warriors responded with a 12-5 burst to assume a 55-53 lead.
Trailing 37-33 early in the second half, Palmyra ripped off six unanswered points – on a trey from Newhard, a stick-back by Mackey and a charity toss by Ross Romanoski – to spring ahead 39-37. It was just that type of contest.
“Oh yeah, they all bother me,” said Conrad of the numerous – but manageable – deficits his club overcame. “We were definitely concerned. But we’ve been in a ton of situations in our league. I think the fact that we had been in situations like that, we didn’t feel overwhelmed by that.
“It was a great experience,” added Conrad. “I don’t think Jeff (Gettysburg head coach, Beair) was happy to see us come out of the bracket. I know we weren’t happy to see them. So many of my kids were on the team that went to Donegal last year, so we’re used to coming into a hostile territory.”
“After the season I had, I don’t think anything is going to change,” said Mackey. “We have designated shooters and we have designated rebounders. We just work as a team.”
The Cougars absolutely, positively lit it up from three-point land against Gettysburg’s combination of zone and man-to-man defenses, draining a total of 11 three-point field goals. Baker, who had five of them, collected 17 points, and Newhard, who drilled four, contributed 14.
“With their (the Warriors’) size, they try to pound it down there,” said Conrad. “We knew we’d be playing that stretch lineup. We were very fortunate to get a great game off the bench from Mackey. He saved our bacon.
“He’s (Mackey) really had a good second half of the season,” Conrad continued. “He’s come on strong. He was hurt last year, so he was a little behind. But he has grown exponentially.”
“I’m a rebounder, absolutely,” said Mackey. “This is definitely my high scoring game this year. This is my first year on varsity, and I might have had more (points) on the JV team, but that wasn’t my role then either.
“I have to crash the boards and give the ball to my teammates,” added Mackey. “That’s what I like best.”
The largest deficit Palmyra faced all night came at 23-14, 1:25 into the second period. But ignited by its bench, Palmyra embarked on a 14-2 journey, and took a 28-25 lead on a Newhard three-pointer, 2:08 before the break.
Mackey asserted himself during that stretch, while Palmyra also got key contributions from Baker and senior reserves Romanoski and Alex Graybill.
“When we were in trouble in the second quarter, I thought our guys were sniping at each other,” said Conrad. “And Romanoski and Graybill sparked us from the bench. We just got tremendous contributions from everyone.
“We have guaranteed ourselves a play-back, which has been one of our goals,” Conrad continued. “I really think that’s (going to states) something these guys would love to do, because last year’s team missed out on it. But we don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”
“We wanted to make a run at the Mid-Penn championship,” said Mackey. “We wanted to come up with a pretty good season. Our goal was to do better than last year. We wanted to win districts and make a state run. Those were the goals at the beginning of the season.”