LEBANON – Recently, someone asked this reporter if Ron Berman was as nice as he seemed. That person was met with a direct response: ‘Nicer!’.
As the conversation progressed, the fact that his Palmyra girls always seem to play hard for Berman was brought up. And that might be the biggest compliment that can be paid to a basketball coach – and it may be the truest testament to Berman as a human being.
On Friday night at Lebanon High School, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAAA postseason, the Cougars once again played hard for the competitive Berman, and themselves, as they pulled away from Garnet Valley for a 48-35 victory. After Palmyra had squandered most of a double-digit third quarter lead, it was the Cougars’ second run, early in the fourth quarter, that proved to be decisive.
It wasn’t always pretty for Palmyra, which at times struggled in its half court offense and to create points in transition. But the one constant for the Cougars was their defense, and they did an admirable job of getting to the free throw line, especially in the second half.
The win means Palmyra, now 25-4 overall, has lived to fight another day. That day will be Tuesday, when the District Three runner-up Cougars will meet Mount Saint Joseph, the eight-place finisher out of District One which edged Nazareth 48-45, in the Round of 16, at a site and time to be announced. Garnet Valley, the sixth-place finisher out of District One, concluded its campaign at 23-5.
“I think we have a mutual respect,” said Berman of his troops. “I think they (his players) know we’re (the coaches) going to do our part. We talk about the four ‘E’s – effort, enthusiasm, energy and execution. I’m in charge of execution. The rest is up to them and the captains.
“It’s a tremendous compliment,” continued Berman. “I’m the top dog, but it’s a compliment to my coaching staff as well. We do demand certain things. We are demanding, and therefore they (his players) try to reach those expectations.”
“He is such an amazing man,” said Cougar senior guard Maria Tukis of Berman. “To have someone like that being such an important part of my life makes me choke up. If you look behind our bench during games, you can see six or seven Berman followers. He’s awesome.
“There is a certain amount of truth to it (that Berman gets the Cougars to play hard for him),” Tukis continued. “He’s one of those guys up until 3 a.m. game planning. He puts his heart and soul into this team. If we don’t put our heart and soul into it, we feel like we’re letting him down. That being said, we are a group of competitive girls. And he’s the leader of our ship.”
Still protecting a one-point edge, Palmyra opened a 38-27 margin with 2:50 to play, thanks to a key 11-1 run that featured intense man-to-man defense. Tukis jump started it with a hard take to the rack, Molly Gunderman turned an inbound pass into a three-point play and Gundermann, Tukis and Kristen Smoluk followed with made free throws.
Palmyra’s lead reached 43-31, on a Gundermann lay-in with 1:32 to play. During the fourth quarter, the Cougars made good on 15 of their 22 foul shots.
“If we stop playing defense, we’re not going to beat anyone,” said Berman. “We aren’t a great offensive team. But we have as good a defense as we’ve ever had. We talk about three things: defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball.
“I feel you have to go into a game somewhat confident,” said Tukis, fresh off the best defensive effort of her career. “We were coming off an amazing effort against Cumberland Valley (in the District Three final). We have had such a difficult schedule. This is states, there’s going to be great teams.”
Palmyra seemed to gain control of the outcome early in the third period, after holding Garnet Valley without a score for a 7:39 stretch that spanned the first and second halves. Tukis tallied ten points in the 13-0 spurt, including a stick back 3:11 into the second half that gave the Cougars a 26-15 advantage.
But the Jaguars netted 11 of the next 12 points to close to within 27-26, a minute into the final period.
“Win and advance,” said Berman. “We don’t know much about anybody. This is our first year in quad-A. We’re kind of feeling our way. We have tried to make adjustments on the run. I know reputations, but I don’t know anything specifically about teams. You do the best you can.
“Our kids, we don’t lose our composure too often,” continued Berman. “We’re used to playing in big games, and I think that helped.”
“Coach has an eight-page game plan which we do study,” said Tukis of Berman. “In it he has five keys, and almost always, one of those is a sense of urgency. We went into halftime up three and we said, ‘This is it. Do we want to end the season this way?’ We know the next game could be our last.”
Palmyra converted 24 of its 36 free throw attempts and outscored the Jaguars by 18 points at the foul stripe.
“We said at halftime that we needed someone to step up,” said Berman of Tukis, “and she certainly did. She’s going to give everything she has to make sure we win. I know she’s a great runner, but she’s a good basketball player too.”
“I thought it was a very similar match-up (with the Jaguars),” Berman added. “We didn’t turn them over too much.”
“Kristen is a huge part of our team,” said Tukis of Smoluk, “and she may have been a little off tonight. But that’s what makes us so dangerous. Who is the other team going to put their best defender on?”
A drive from junior Josie Stovall with 25 seconds left in the opening quarter gave Palmyra an 11-8 lead, and a lay-in by Gundermann 54 seconds into the second pushed the Cougar advantage to 13-9. But Palmyra went without a point over the next 4:28 of action, as Garnet Valley assumed a 15-13 margin.
“We don’t need to be pretty,” said Berman. “We had a tough week with the weather. I thought we were ragged in the beginning. We weren’t as quick as we usually are. But we got where we are by defending and taking care of the ball. We talked at halftime about getting to the free throw line.”
“We weren’t playing Palmyra Lady Cougar basketball in the first half, but in the second half we did,” said Tukis, who’s competing in her fourth state tournament. “As a collective team, we never get down on each other. Sometimes the shots don’t go in, but we don’t hang our heads.”
|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|