BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – It wasn’t easy. The Cougars just made it look that way.
On Friday night, the Palmyra girls’ basketball team defeated a very good Lower Dauphin outfit by a relatively comfortable margin, 47-35. The Cougars got off to yet another good start, then employing some intense defense, slowly and methodically pulled away from the Falcons.
Not only did the victory avenge Palmyra’s last loss, it clinched at least a share of the Mid-Penn Keystone Division championship. Palmyra, which shared the title last season, improved to 17-2 overall and 10-1 in the conference.
The Cougars can make the crown all their own with a win over Mechanicsburg on Tuesday. Lower Dauphin, which bested Palmyra 27-23 at home on January 10, slipped to 15-5 on the year and 9-2 in the circuit.
“No, absolutely not,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. “There was nothing easy about this game. We never felt comfortable. In the first game up there, we had a four-point lead going into the fourth quarter. You know they (the Falcons) can shut you down defensively.
“I liked the fact that we had a double-digit lead and were in the bonus,” Berman continued. “If you’re strong with the ball, you get rewarded for your effort.”
“We knew if we lost this one, we wouldn’t have a chance at the championship,” said sophomore forward Carly Richardson, who led the Cougars with 14 points. “Now if we take care of business, we should have the Keystone Division crown.”
The Cougars scored points in spurts, but the one constant was their defense. In building a seven-point locker room lead, Palmyra held the Falcons to a mere ten points in the first half.
A putback from Kaitlyn Carmo, a lay-in by Callie Good and a foul shot by Maddie Good gave Palmyra an 11-6 advantage late in the first quarter. And when Richardson nailed a trifecta two minutes before the break the Cougars had a 17-8 bulge.
“One of our goals was to defend the championship,” said Berman. “We’re going to at least do that. Maybe we’ll end up tied. We have to get up against Mechanicsburg to win the championship.
“If anything matters, it’s that we were at home,” added Berman. “They (the Falcons) had a great game earlier and we performed better than they did tonight. The thing we haven’t done is stumble, like they did against Mechanicsburg. Now if we don’t, we win the championship.”
“Last time at Lower Dauphin, we had a lead at halftime,” said Richardson, “and we know what happened that time. They (the Falcons) play the toughest defense we play against.”
Back-to-back treys from Maddie Good and Chelsea Ebersole expanded Palmyra’s lead to 26-15 three minutes into the second half. Then two free throws from Richardson upped the Cougar lead to 40-23 midway through the final period.
“I thought 17 points was a confidence-builder,” said Berman of Palmyra’s first-half output. “Seventeen on Lower Dauphin is pretty good, and when they have ten, it’s even better. Everyone was expecting a low-scoring game, but I thought we got better shots this time.
“We built a program 12 years ago,” Berman continued. “We have almost all two- or three-sports athletes and I realized the big-time offensive stars are going to be few and far between. Defense is taught. Offense is something you go out and put the ball in the basket. We had to sell defense. We have a five-step program for success and offense is last on the list. It comes down to defense. They’ve (his players) got to buy into it or they don’t play. You’ve got to do something to help your teammates.”
Palmyra overcame nine-of-20 free throwing with six three-pointers, two each from Richardson, M. Good and Ebersole.
“I’m going to tell you something, and people are going to think I’m crazy,” said Berman. “And I’m not saying I don’t want to win a district championship. But I’d like to win a league championship just as much as a district championship. To win a district championship, you’ve got to get on a good two-week run. In our division, there are no easy games. It’s more a measure of your team. It means you’ve been good all season long.
“The comraderie on this team seems to be very, very good,” Berman concluded. “The one thing that happened at the end of last year was that we didn’t have a senior. At the end of the season, we were content. There was no one saying, ‘This is my last chance’. This year I don’t think they’re satisfied with being good. They want to be as good as they can be.”