BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
NEW HOLLAND – The coach claims its the community.
The players say its each other.
The media contends its the coach.
The community could swear its the pure enjoyment of competing in the state playoffs.
Well, it may be all, some, none or a combination of the above. But something sure is motivating the Palmyra girls’ basketball team right now.
On Friday night at Garden Spot High School, the Cougars certainly had the look of a motivated outfit – whatever the source my be – as they dismantled Cardinal O’Hara 54-42, in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAAA postseason. The Cougars set the tone for the result with their defense, executed efficiently enough offensively and never stopped rebounding, protecting the rock or plying their fundamentals.
If the Cougars are going to lose at this point of the season, it’s going to come at the hands of a well-scouted, good team playing well. Last night, Cardinal O’Hara wasn’t it.
The win moved Palmyra to 26-4 overall and into Tuesday’s PIAA Class AAAA semifinal opposite District One champion Central Bucks West, a 60-45 victor over Archbishop Carroll, at a site and time to be announced. Cardinal O’Harra, the District 12 champion which started all freshmen and sophomores, concluded its campaign at 21-6.
With the win, Palmyra, which is in its first season of competing at the Class AAAA level, improved to 7-2 in state playoff games over the past three seasons.
“Our girls know the second-graders in our program,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. “We have a community. We have a town. They’re (his players) playing more for them than they are for themselves. They don’t want to leave the town or community down. They have people coming up to them and telling them they love them because of their effort. I think you can tell by the fan support we receive.
“A lot of teams just want to get to states,” continued Berman. “Whenever we go into a game, we have a plan to win. I have a plan for us to win. That’s my job. The girls trust me and I trust them to execute. When you win it reinforces what you’re doing. Our expectations are to do well. Our expectations are to win.”
“We know what disappointment feels like,” said Pamyra senior forward Katy McClellan. “We felt it against Cumberland Valley (in the District Three final). We felt it against Blackhawk (in last season’s PIAA Class AAA semifinal). We felt it the year before. The ultimate is to win at the highest level of competition or lose to a better team.
“We know our strengths and weaknesses, and we play to that,” continued McClellan. “This group has played together so long we know what’s going to happen if we lose a game. But we know we can go all the way.”
Palmyra never trailed, after holding Cardinal O’Hara without a point for the opening 5:30 of the contest, and opening a 6-0 edge on buckets from Maria Tukis and McClellan and free throws from Kristen Smoluk. Then after Cardinal O’Hara closed to within 12-10 37 seconds into the second quarter, the Cougars ripped off a 9-2 run that proved to be lethal.
Junior Josie Stovall went left, McClellan canned a pair of charity tosses, Stovall maneuvered around the rim and Katie Dembrowski turned a back-door cut into a three-point play and a 21-12 advantage. Cardinal O’Hara didn’t score over the last 3:22 of the first half and the Cougars carried a 24-16 lead to the locker room on the strength of a McClellan three-pointer.
“We are far, far better than we were at the beginning of the season,” said Berman. “I have a strong philosophy. I think we begin the season at a three or four on a scale of ten, and if the plan goes right, we get to a nine or a ten. And I have a set way of how I want them to do things. We’re better individually. But I don’t see the kids at all until the beginning of the season.
“We have room where we can improve,” added Berman. “On my scale, we’re close to a nine. We’re going to work on shooting the ball better. At this point of the season, defense, rebounding and not turning the ball over will carry you. But we have room for improvement.”
“Coming in, we knew a lot of people didn’t know who we were,” said McClellan of the state playoffs. “What we wanted to accomplish was to get people to notice. We know we could compete at the highest level. Cumberland Valley is ranked number-one in the state. We’re like, ‘Who are we going to play? Who else is there?'”
With 14 points, Tukis topped Palmyra’s scoring chart and McClellan chimed in with 11 points. On 19-of-25 free throwing, the Cougars outscored Cardinal O’Hara by 15 points at the foul stripe.
“My friends tell me I’m very competitive,” said Berman. “I don’t feel like I am. The game is for the kids. My job is to prepare the kids. I could go the whole season without playing a game. The Cumberland Valley game (a 26-25 loss in the District Three championship game) was as great a game as I’ve ever been involved with. I was as proud of them (his players) after that loss as I’ve ever been after a win.”
“I think the players reflect the attitude of the coaches,” said McClellan. “We’ve played for them for a long time. I don’t know anything else. We love to compete. We love to run. We just like to follow our motto: ‘Play hard. Play smart, Play together. And have fun.'”
Cardinal O’Hara momentarily drew within five points of Palmyra early in the second half. But McClellan drained another three-pointer, with 2:35 left in the third quarter, to re-extend the Cougar advantage to 35-23.
“It was a second-half game,” said Berman. “But the fact that we started well was important. They (Cardinal O’Hara) were very quick, but we adjusted. We just wanted them (Cardinal O’Hara) not to be able to run their game.”
“It was a really fast-paced game,” said McClellan. “Both teams were really fast. I think they’re (Cardinal O’Hara) one of the fastest teams we’ve met. They love to push the ball. But we love to play fast. I think we’re pretty fast. We like to run too. We just had to know their players and realize we have to get back (on defense).”
On the strength of a left-handed Smoluk shot and a deliberate offensive approach, Palmyra held Cardinal O’ Hara without a score for the first 3:26 of the final period and opened a 37-27 margin. Palmyra scored its last 17 points on 15-of-20 foul shooting and a Katie D. lay-up.
“I was concerned with their shooting,” said Berman of Cardinal O’Hara. “They can all shoot. We had two match-ups we didn’t like, and one hurt us.
“The one thing I was impressed with was how well they rebounded for their size,” Berman continued. “But we were able to turn their aggressiveness against them.”
“Probably the difference was the foul shots,” said McClellan. “We really try not to foul, if we can help it. Right from the start it was obvious they were a physical team. We were strong going to the basket and we got fouled.”
|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|
|8:00 PM||W 54-27|
|5:00 PM||W 48-42|
|8:30 PM||L 25-26|
|8:00 PM||W 48-35|
Mount St. Joseph
|6:00 PM||W 57-38|
|6:00 PM||W 54-42|