NEW HOLLAND – For the undefeated Palmyra girls’ basketball team, the state playoffs are its next, most difficult and final challenge. But last night, the Cougars treated them just like every other previous challenge which had been placed before them.
On Saturday night at Garden Spot High School, Palmyra began what could be in an extended run in the PIAA Class AAA postseason with another dominant performance, a 68-37 triumph over Freiere Charter. After notching the first ten points of the contest, Palmyra used its team play, full-court pressure defense and athleticism to control the action throughout.
The victory moved District Three champ Palmyra to 29-0 and into Wednesday’s second round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament, opposite Scranton Prep, which beat Southern Lehigh 6057. That contest will be staged at 6 p.m. at Pottsville’s Martz Hall.
Wtih the loss, Freiere Charter, the District 12 fourth-place finisher which is located in center city Philadelphia, completed its campaign 15-12.
“I think winning has become an expectation,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. “We have a sign that says: ‘Tradition never graduates.’ The girls in the program expect to be successful. There’s an expectation to compete for a lot of things next season. We expect to be successful.
“Right now, we’re just excited about getting to the second round,” Berman continued. “We’re trying to take it one game at a time. The kids played hard. They gave us their best.”
“Every time we step on the court we want to do our best,” said Palmyra junior forward Carly Richardson. “We’re 29-0 and we’ve got a target on our back. Every single game is a challenge. We’re just going to take it one game at a time. We’re not thinking about it (a state championship), because that’s four more games away.”
Behind the lights-out shooting of Richardson, the Cougars certainly looked like a team ready to tackle a new challenge. Of Palmyra’s first ten points, Richardson scored eight, and she knocked down all four of her three-point field goal attempts in the opening stanza.
For the period, Richardson collected 16 points.
“They were excited,” said Berman of his troops. “I keep thinking, ‘Emotionally, how much do they have left?’ They just keep reaching deeper. Obviously when you’re hitting six of seven shots, everything is going great. I’ve never had that, in ten years of playing in the state playoffs.
“Carly’s been fighting this ankle thing and it’s kept her out of some things,” added Berman. “Today she said she was close to 100 percent. Offensively, her shot was dead on. I’d like to see more of it. Carly’s the first person in the gym every time we practice. She always has 20 shots in. She’s our best shooter.”
“Our team was ready,” said Richardson. “We were reading the zone really well and my teammates were doing a good job of getting me the ball. Fortunately they hit me with good passes and I made some shots.”
Palmyra netted the last two baskets of the first period – an inside maneuver from Richardson and a driving lay-in by Maria Tukis – then tallied the first four points of the second stanza – courtesy of an old-fashioned three-point play by Kate Carmo and a free throw from Kristen Smoluk – to establish a 28-9 margin.
About a minute later, the Cougars registered another 12 unanswered points – getting scoring contributions from Katie McClellan, Smoluk, Tukis and Richardson – to expand their advantage to 40-11. At halftime, the scoreboard read Palmyra 45, Freiere Charter 13.
“We knew what they did against Lancaster Catholic last year,” said Berman of Freiere Charter. “I heard it was a two-man game. But we hadn’t seen it. So we said, ‘Let’s kind of play it like we did against Gettysburg’s two guards.’ We tried to get out a little more. We tried to stop the roll to the big girl to the basket.
“We often worry about how we’re going to match up,” added Berman. “But people tell me, ‘You don’t know how hard it is to match up with you’. We’ve got five difficult match-ups.”
Of the 17 Cougars who played, eight scored. Richardson poured in a total of 24 points on ten-of-13 shooting, while Tukis collected 15 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
“Maria has so much athletic, God-given ability with her legs,” said Berman of the reigning District Three Class AA cross country champion. “We tell her, ‘you better be careful because you’re becoming a pretty good basketball player.’ With some of these girls, I don’t know if I’ll see them over the summer. But now we’ve been together for four months and they’re becoming basketball players.”
Palmyra’s biggest lead of the game came at 60-23, with 57 seconds left in the third period, on a patented Tukis drive. Berman began substituting liberally at about that point. Then in the final quarter, he substituted for his substitutes.
“I don’t ever feel comfortable,” said Berman. “But when we came in at halftime, we felt fairly comfortable with a 30-point lead. But you still want the kids to play a certain way. And mainly, I wanted to give my bench the fourth quarter. I didn’t get comfortable, but when Carly was hitting those shots in the first quarter, now you start thinking, ‘if the press doesn’t bother us, we should be OK.'”
Consider this: When Tukis drained a free throw with 1:59 left in the first half, Palmyra had more points – 38 – than Freiere Charter would score the entire game.