BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
LITITZ – 100? Or 1000?
Don’t ask Kristen Smoluk which number is bigger. While maybe not a mathematician, Smoluk is acutely aware of the fact that team accomplishments are approximately ten times more important than personal achievements.
On Friday night at Warwick High School, Smoluk and her Palmyra girls’ basketball teammates reached a number of historic milestones – one seemingly more impressive than the previous – during a workmanlike 54-27 thumping of Hempfield, in the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AAAA tournament. Not only did Smoluk surpass the 1,000-point plateau for her career, the victory was her’s, Katie Dembrowski’s, Maria Tukis’ and Katie McClellan’s 100th career win together – a feat that has rarely been accomplished in the history of Lebanon County basketball.
The outcome also produced another County rarity, Monday’s 5 p.m. showdown with Cedar Crest at Giant Center, for the right to play for the Class AAAA championship. Three weeks ago, Palmyra had suffered a 65-61 overtime setback to Cedar Crest at “The Cage’.
In its first year of competing at the Class AAAA level, top-seeded Palmyra, now 23-3 overall and 100-14 over the past four years, also qualified for the PIAA playoffs for the fourth straight year.
With the setback, Hempfield was dropped to 16-8 and into the loser’s bracket of the tourney
“If I had to choose, I think I’d take the hundred,” said Smoluk. “A lot of teams have players who score a thousand points. One hundred wins is almost unheard of. From the beginning of the year, we knew it was within reach. We knew we had to just keep winning. We have a great coaching staff. They put in so much time and effort.”
“Yeah, it was a nice game,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman with a smile. “At the end, we kept running things for Kristen. We wanted to get Kristen her ten points either tonight or Monday night. But when it seemed like the game was in hand, I told her, ‘I’m going to do the best I can to get it for you tonight.’ And one hundred wins was one of our goals.
“You only have 22 regular-season games,” continued Berman. “That’s (100 career wins) pretty incredible. The second part of the equation is that they (Smoluk, Tukis, Dembrowski and McClellan) weren’t the stars all the time. But they were the greatest practice players. We got to that level with them pushing the other players. They’ve been major parts.”
The Cougars’ victory was as routine as one can get in the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AAAA playoffs. Palmyra never trailed and grabbed firm control of the outcome late in the second period.
Nursing a 13-8 advantage, Palmyra outscored Hempfield 13-5 over the 3:18 which preceded halftime. The Cougars drained a trio of three-pointers during the stretch – one each from Dembrowski, Smoluk and McClellan – and also benefited from a lay-in from Kailey Werkheiser and a put back by McClellan, to carry a 26-13 bulge to the break.
“The nice thing about it is we were not surprised by it,” said Berman of the move to Class AAAA. “We have a great athletic director (Brian Weidler), and I told him, ‘If we go to quad-A, we have to upgrade our schedule.’ We wanted to get a home game in the first round.
“I thought we did a great job of preparing to go to that level,” Berman added. “We’re blessed with some competitive kids. This was a good year to come up to quad-A. Anyone who thinks we’re the best team has no clue about basketball. I know what’s on the other side of the bracket (second-seeded Cumberland Valley and third-seeded C.D. East). But Cedar Crest will be a great challenge for us.”
“I think it’s great, because last year we didn’t get to the Giant Center,” said Smoluk. “We hit three goals tonight, a thousand points, a hundred wins and going to the Giant Center. We’re right there with them (the Falcons). We’re not far behind them.”
After holding serve through much of the third quarter, the Cougars turned the affair into a rout early in the final period. While holding the Black Knights scoreless for a four-minute stretch, Palmyra ripped off 13 unanswered points to open a 50-24 margin.
Junior Josie Stovall accounted for seven of those Cougar points, Werkheiser converted a deuce from in close, Smoluk maneuvered inside and Dembrowski contributed a bucket.
“A long time ago I discovered in girls’ basketball that if you shoot you don’t turn the ball over,” said Berman. “Some nights you look really bad. But you go with what got you here.
“I thought we defended as well as we can,” Berman added. “And we rebounded well.”
With the rest of the regulars on the bench, Smoluk canned a couple of free throws with 33 seconds remaining – the first of which marked her 1,000th point – to make it a 54-26 game. Needing ten to reach the milestone, Smoluk finished with 11 points.
McClellan’s 15 points topped the Cougars’ scoring, while Stovall popped for ten. Palmyra limited the Black Knights to ten total field goals and outscored them 15-0 from distance.
“I thought we found their weaknesses and pushed them out defensively,” said Smoluk of the Black Knights. “I think it (the 1,000 career points) speaks volumes for our team. I probably couldn’t do it if we didn’t have all those postseason games. Coach always says if you’re a 50 percent shooter and you miss your first give, then you have a good chance of making your next five.”
Palmyra set the tone for the triumph early, by holding Hempfield without a point for the initial 5:44. Then the Cougars netted the first five points of the second period – on a McClellan ‘three’ and a Molly Gundermann lay-up – to push their lead to 10-4.
“There was no priority other than winning,” said Berman. “We knew we’re not done if we lose. I told my coaches, ‘Here’s the scenario: Do you want to play Cedar Crest or Mechanicsburg? Well, we better take care of Hempfield, because the loser’s bracket isn’t going to be much easier than the winner’s bracket.’ The priority was to win this game and get to the state tournament. I wanted to get that out of the way.”
Palmyra 2014-15 Results
|5:30 PM||W 68-38|
|7:00 PM||W 64-26|
|7:30 PM||W 44-39|
|7:30 PM||W 52-43|
|7:30 PM||W 52-41|
|7:30 PM||W 43-27|
|7:30 PM||W 66-37|
|7:30 PM||W 64-40|
|2:00 PM||W 53-38|
|6:00 PM||W 45-39|
|7:30 PM||W 68-35|
|7:30 PM||W 48-35|
|12:30 PM||W 52-35|
|7:30 PM||L 26-29|
|7:30 PM||W 64-59|
|12:30 PM||W 66-32|
|7:30 PM||W 44-37|
|7:30 PM||W 59-38|
|7:30 PM||W 66-33|
|7:30 PM||L 61-65|
|7:30 PM||W 59-25|
|7:30 PM||W 42-29|
|6:00 PM||W 49-35|
|6:00 PM||L 54-70|
|02/17 * #||
|7:00 PM||W 61-39|