BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – There are shelf lives on words like ‘potential’, ‘promise’, ’emerging’. If they aren’t realized and harvested over a certain period of time, eventually they will wilt up and wither away.
The Palmyra boys’ basketball team is approaching its developmental point of no return.
For at least one Tuesday night, the bloom was off the Cougars’ rose, as they dropped their Mid-Penn Keystone Division One opener to Mechanicsburg 68-56. While the hot-shooting Wildcats took control of the outcome in the middle of the third quarter, the Cougars experienced difficulties uncovering a defensive solution for them throughout.
The loss dropped Palmyra to 1-2 on the young season. Mechanicsburg improved to 2-1 overall.
“We’re trying to turn the corner,” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad. “We haven’t gotten to where we need to be yet.
“Yeah, it was probably a result of being young,” added Conrad. “We were choppy. But I don’t want to give too much time to the idea of being young. Our top guys have experience. There’s got to be accountability.”
Searching for a defensive spark, Palmyra opened the second half in a zone. But the Wildcats knocked down every open look they got, and then held the Cougars without a score of any kind for a four-minute stretch.
The result was an 11-0 spurt that turned a one-point game into a 41-29 bulge.
“That’s when they got some distance,” said Conrad of the third period. “All you have to do is look at the score book.
“We talked about that (effort),” Conrad continued. “The surface effect was really good, things like diving for loose balls. But part of playing hard is mental details.”
The Cougars were led in scoring by junior Austin Yetter, who stroked a trio of three-point field goals and finished with 21 points. Sophomore Isaac Blatt pumped in 14 points and senior guard Ian Frazier popped for 13.
Mechanicsburg connected on 23 two-point field goal attempts.
“He’s played really well for us,” said Conrad of Blatt, who ended the game on the bench with a wrap around his right ankle. “He’s a versatile player. He’s able to step out. He’s able to play in the interior. He can be a match-up problem.
“Rebounds,” Conrad added, “we’re going to have to start working on that.”
The Cougars were probably at their best early in the second quarter, when they erased a five-point deficit before taking a three-point edge. Frazier knocked down a ‘J’ to close the opening session, then on a bucket from Blatt and treys by Yetter and Frazier, they assumed a 21-18 lead two minutes into the second.
But Palmyra managed just a single Blatt free throw over the final 4:46 of the second quarter, and faced a 28-24 deficit in the locker room.
“Mechanicsburg is always well coached,” said Conrad. “That was true tonight. They have good physical players, and they were able to do well tonight.
“I don’t know that Mechanicsburg is any more winnable than any other game in our division,” continued Conrad. “They’re probably one of the better coached teams in the division. It’s a game. We think we need to improve if that’s our performance.”
Early on, Yetter nailed a three-pointer and Blatt converted an inside move to snap a five-all tie. But the Wildcats responded with an 11-1 run to establish a 16-11 advantage.
“We don’t think about things like that,” said Conrad to the prospect of competing for a division crown. “I don’t think any team does but Susquehanna Township. Our goal is to be as good as we can be every night, to be as prepared as we can be every night.
“I think expectations really are that,” Conrad continued. “It’s to be as good as we can be. Obviously we want to get better. That’s part of our process. I think every coach is excited about some aspects of their team and believe they could improve in other areas.”
In the fourth quarter, the Cougars closed to within 50-44 on a Blatt steal and lay-in, with 5:30 to go. But Palmyra couldn’t come up with enough of those, or even stops for that matter, and ultimately relinquished 22 points in the stanza – certainly not the recipe from which comebacks are hatched.
LEBANON SPORTS BUZZ
Pres-Season Lebanon County Boys’ Basketball Rankings
1. Cedar Crest
2. Lebanon High
5. Northern Lebanon
7. Lebanon Catholic