PALMYRA – There is something to be said for familiarity. It possesses the power to produce comfort.
Right now, the Palmyra girls’ basketball team is beginning to get its bearings, and starting to figure some things out.
On a Wednesday Senior Night at home, the Cougars took the next steps in both the familiarity and comfort processes, with a 46-24 destruction of visiting Red Land. The Cougars used a big second-quarter spurt to gain control of the outcome, while their defense held the Patriots score-less for extended stretches of the contest.
The outcome was Palmyra’s third victory in-a-row and lifted it to 3-2 on the season and 2-1 in the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference. During that stretch, the Cougars have steadily increased their offensive output, while tightening their defense.
Red Land fell to 0-3 overall and 0-2 in the division.
“We had two rough games to start our season,” said Palmyra rookie head coach John Polly. “We didn’t quite have our feet beneath us. Now we’ve won three in-a-row, and I think each game we’ve gotten better and better. Tonight, we told them (his players) after the game that a win is a win. There’s room for improvement.
“I think the difference has been balanced scoring and just scoring the ball,” continued Polly. “We want to score 50 points a game. If we can get around that number, I like our chances, because of the way we play defense. I thought we had a number of players scoring tonight. It was nice and balanced across the board.”
The visitors enjoyed a few modest leads early, before the Cougars notched the last two buckets of the opening quarter and the first two baskets of the second period to open a 16-8 advantage. While Genieva Martin, Mallory Margot and Elena Cota were handling the scoring chores, Palmyra was holding the Patriots without a score for a stretch of 6:43 that spanned both periods.
“It was sloppy, but we got the job done,” said Polly. “We had breakdowns on the defensive end in the first half, but we cleaned it up in the second half. Defensively, we turned it around.
“The second half was much better than the first,” Polly continued. “We tightened up some of the defensive deficiencies. We got rid of the bad rotations, then we were able to turn up our pressure, with everyone on the same page.”
The Cougars also held Red Land without a score of any kind over the final 4:29 of the first half. And with Zoe Smith and Martin scoring driving lay-ins, Palmyra took a 20-10 lead to the locker room.
“I told the girls at halftime, ‘Play fast, but not in a hurry,'” said Polly. “We were in a hurry in the first half. You never quite know the emotions you’re going to get on Senior Night. They may have been a little anxious. The message was pretty simple, ‘Do what we do’. We want to stay true to ourselves and find our identity.”
Martin poured in 15 points, on five field goals and five-for-six free throwing, to lead all scorers. Palmyra outscored Red Land 34-16 on field goals inside the arc, and the Cougars connected on nine of their 18 foul shots.
“She’s more than capable of that,” said Polly of Martin. “For us, any given night can be your night. The ball will find your hands. She worked hard for a lot of those points, with offensive rebounds and hustle plays. She’s going to give you maximum effort.”
With a comfortable lead, the Cougars continued to attack. Palmyra closed out the third stanza with baskets from Katelyn Becker and Alyssa Marrero, and a 32-19 cushion.
“Every game is important,” said Polly. “If we can get suited up, they’re important, because you just don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. I’m just happy to be out there with the girls.”
In the final quarter, Palmyra held the Patriots without a point for another 5:33 span. Marrero scored a deuce, Cota canned a couple of foul shots and Becker converted a free throw, as the Cougars’ lead reached 44-21.
“As the game went on, our defense got better,” said Polly. “They (the Patriots) missed some shots in the first half. We had missed assignments and missed communications, and people cutting through the middle. Not only did we want to stop them from scoring, we also wanted to create turnovers.”