BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – Playing with the lead can be a tricky proposition. Just figuring out when to step on the accelerator and exactly how much gas to apply.
It is an acquired skill set.
The Palmyra boys’ basketball team probably could’ve done a better jof of managing its lead on Friday night during a 68-65 loss to York Suburban, in a quarterfinal contest of the District Three Class AAA tournament at Hershey’s Giant Center. Although the margins the Cougars enjoyed were modest, in playoff-basketball any lead is precious.
After regulation ended in a 58-all draw, York Suburban outscored Palmyra 10-7 in the extra four-minute session. Ultimately, the Cougars were done in by some missed charity tosses and the earlier loss of leading scorer Logan Stovall to fouls.
A huge trey from Adam Newhard pulled Palmyra to within 66-65 with 21 seconds of OT to play. And the Cougars weren’t officially dead until Dan Rusling’s trey with two seconds remaining clanged off the front rim.
The good news is that the loss didn’t end 14th-seeded Palmyra’s season, just their dream of winning a District Three championship. Now 14-11, the Cougars quest for a PIAA playoff berth will begin on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Red Lion, opposite Northeastern.
Sixth-seeded York Suburban reached the semifinal round with a 21-4 mark.
“It’s hard to play with the lead, especially when so much is on the line,” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad. “We tried to stress to the kids to keep on attacking. But it’s a fine line between being aggressive and being patient.
“I think we’re playing better (than at the end of the regular season),” Conrad added. “We’re playing more confident. But for the most part, it’s the teams we’re playing. There’s just better teams in the Keystone (Division of the Mid-Penn Conference). We’re not guarding Division One basketball players. It’s a little different animal.”
Palmyra enjoyed three separate five-point leads early in the fourth quarter.
Brandon Petrouskie converted an inside move 48 seconds into the stanza to put the Cougars up 53-48. Newhard sank a couple of free throws to make it 55-50, and Petrouskie maneuvered inside for another deuce with 4:33 left in regulation to move Palmyra ahead 57-52.
A foul shot from Jordan Harro with 4:06 left in the fourth period gave the Cougars a six-point advantage, but they would not score again in regulation – including a couple of good looks on the final possession before overtime.
“We had some chances, didn’t we?” said Conrad. “We’ve been living on the edge, one way or another. I mean obviously we did not knock down our free throws.
“I didn’t think we played our best game,” added Conrad. “But we had our best effort. Those guys sold out on the floor. But we didn’t have an answer for number ten (Suburban’s Ted Hinnenkamp).”
The Cougars closed the opening half on a 10-2 run to take a 35-28 lead at the break. Newhard started it with a pull-up and ended it with a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
“It’s hard,” said Conrad. “York Suburban had some experience playing here and we don’t. There is a definite difference. We walked in here and we were a little wide-eyed. I know I was.”
Newhard paced Palmyra with three three-pointers and 19 points, while Stovall, who fouled out with 31 seconds remaining in regulation, collected 16 points. Senior Petrouskie tallied ten points.
Hinnenkamp pumped in a game-high 27 points for the Warriors.
“It definitely hurt,” said Conrad of Stovall fouling out. “He’s obviously one of our key scoring options. He was a hard match-up for them.
“Maybe it comes down to two guys (Stovall’s one-on-one match-up with Hinnenkamp) who were offensive-minded,” added Conrad. “Their responsibility isn’t necessarily digging in on the other end.”
Most of the opening period was a one-possession game, before Hinnenkamp completed a four-point play three minutes into the second to forge a 22-18 advantage. But Palmyra responded with a Colby Conway putback, a Stovall drive and a Petrouskie charity toss.
“We’re not done yet,” said Conrad. “I tried to stress that to the guys. We didn’t reach our goal of winning a district championship. But qualifying for states is another goal.”