BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – A non-league game in the middle of the season?
Between two sides fighting for their respective division championships?
Yeah, that’s right!
Because Cedar Crest playing Palmyra is a very positive thing for Lebanon County girls’ basketball. And any positive thing for local girls’ basketball is a good thing for Lebanon County scholastic athletics in general.
On Wednesday night, in a battle that went well beyond your average non-league game, Palmyra left little doubt to its dominance of local girls’ basketball by dispatching Cedar Crest 47-27. In a match-up of two clubs employing man-to-man full court pressure defense most of the way, the Cougars did it a little better, never trailing and building a comfortable lead as early as the middle of the third quarter.
With the win, Palmyra, the top-ranked Class AAA team in District Three, moved to 13-1 overall and 4-0 against Lebanon County competition this season. The outcome snapped Cedar Crest’s eight-game win streak and dropped the Falcons, currently ranked fifth in Class AAAA, to 11-3 on the year.
The Cougars and Falcons entered the fray as Lebanon Sports Buzz’s top two ranked girls’ squads locally. No need to distinguish one from the other.
“We have six games in nine days, and this was the first,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. “It was the next game. We want to get better, and obviously we wanted to win the game. For the most part, we treat every game the same. But we knew it was going to be a good ball game.
“We are working on dates (to play Cedar Crest) next year,” Berman continued. “I appreciate playing Lebanon County teams. I love playing the County schools. This year, we played four of them.”
“Every game is important,” said Cedar Crest head coach Jim Donmoyer. “We don’t come out here to lose. It’s a Lebanon County game. There’s pride involved. The kids want to win. We know they’re (the Cougars) a great team. You want to beat somebody like this.
“Every year we have them on our schedule,” continued Donmoyer. “People say, ‘Why do you want to play Palmyra?’ Because they’re good. I don’t think they’re ever down. In order for us to get where we want to go, we have to play good teams. They’re in the County and they’re good. It’s important to us.”
When push came to shove, Palmyra was the more athletic, the more aggressive, the stronger team. On this particular evening, that was never more apparent in the third quarter, when Palmyra limited Cedar Crest to a total of four points, and at the end of the fourth period, when the Cougars shut out the Falcons over the final 4:56.
Just after halftime, Cedar Crest was still hanging around, thanks to a Rachel Miller drive that pulled the Falcons to within 27-19. But Palmyra ended the period with a 12-2 spurt, and a 39-21 margin.
Sophomore Josie Stovall notched six of those Cougar points, while junior Maria Tukis helped with four and sophomore Molly Gundermann added a bucket.
“They’re (the Falcons) averaging seven ‘threes’ a game, so I wasn’t comfortable,” said Berman. “I think they’re a really good team. He’s (Donmoyer) going to try to continue to win the game, but I thought we did a really good job of getting out there and not letting them shoot. I didn’t care if we gave up a lay-up now and then.
“Six of these girls have been in eight conference, district and state playoff games,” Berman added. “I think in bigger games, more experience is important. I do think it’s a factor.”
“Nope,” said Donmoyer, when asked if he’s seen a better club this season. “That’s the best team we’ve played all year, without a doubt. Their defense is phenomenal. I’ve got to give them all the credit. We knew what they were going to do, but we didn’t handle the physical play. They shot 20 foul shots in the first half. They’re going to go far in their class. I don’t want to play them again.
“They’re a great team, and he’s (Berman) a great coach,” added Donmoyer. “We’re not there yet. They’re what we want to be. They’re a physical team and they pushed us around in the first half. We didn’t play good offense or good defense, and I attribute that to them.”
If that wasn’t enough for Palmyra, the Cougars received an emotional lift by the return of junior point guard Katie Dembrowski from a wrist injury. While Dembrowski played surprisingly well and handed out five assists, it was Gundermann and Stovall who led the Cougar scoring with 14 and ten points, respectively.
Palmyra outscored Cedar Crest 20-6 at the charity stripe. The Cougars also held the Falcons to one-for-six shooting from beyond the arc.
“They’re two very athletically talented sophomores,” said Berman of Gundermann and Stovall. “Both are 5-10 and have some hops. They both have potential to make plays and make things happen. I’m very excited for both of them. They have a high ceiling.
“It was a really competitive game and it was a measuring stick for both teams,” continued Berman. “We got a really lucky break getting Katie Dembrowski back. I thought it gave us an emotional lift, and depth.”
“Last year we played Palmyra well,” said Donmoyer. “We were looking forward to this. It’s a measuring stick for us. We’re not there yet. Maybe we thought we were.”
Palmyra tallied the first five points of the game, and the last four of the opening quarter, to open a 16-7 advantage. Gundermann was personally responsible for the last nine Palmyra points of the period.
“We’ve been choppy on offense for quite a while,” said Berman. “I’m really blessed to have some very team-oriented players. I have kids who I have asked to play out of position so much. They’re just so committed to the team. Offensively, we’re not close to where we were last year.”
“This doesn’t change our prize one bit,” said Donmoyer. “Maybe it was good to lose a game. We’ll be ready to play on Friday. This can absolutely help us down the road. We’ve probably gotten less out of wins.”
Cedar Crest pulled to within 18-11, courtesy of two Alex Rich free throws two minutes into the second stanza. But the Falcons failed to capitalize on a three-minute scoring drought by Palmyra, and the Cougars went to the locker room with a 27-17 margin, on the strength of a put back from Stovall just prior to halftime.
“I thought we played really well defensively tonight,” said Berman. “We worked a lot on their ball screens. We wanted to get up on their shooters and make them drive. We achieved what we wanted to do defensively.”
LEBANON SPORTS BUZZ
All-Lebanon County Girls’ Basketball Rankings
2. Cedar Crest
3. Lebanon High
6. Northern Lebanon
7. Lebanon Catholic