PALMYRA – It was a tight game.
It was a tough game.
It was a tense game.
It was a terrific game.
It was the kind of game that will serve both teams well in the future, by making each better.
On Wednesday at Palmyra High School, the home-standing Cougars shaded Cedar Crest 40-36, in a lively and entertaining non-league girls’ basketball contest between two pretty good Lebanon County squads. The score was tied on six different occasions and featured almost as many lead changes, before senior guard Katelyn Becker stepped up and drilled a big shot to turn the tide in Palmyra’s favor.
The outcome was the Cougars’ fourth straight win and moved them to 4-2 overall. Not bad for a Palmyra club which was coming off a six-day pause caused by the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
With the setback, Cedar Crest fell to 3-2 on the year.
“We played an intense, physical team tonight, and we matched them,” said Palmyra’s rookie head coach, John Polly. “But we not only matched it, we became the more physical and intense team. We’ve been on both sides of blow-outs this season, but this was the first time the game was played in single digits. We needed a dogfight, and we responded.”
“I’ll have more fun when we play better,” said Will Wenninger, who’s in the first year of his second stint as Cedar Crest’s head coach. “Do you know how to spell fun? W-I-N.”
In a game of spurts, it was the Cougars who had the final say.
Palmyra outscored Cedar Crest 12-2 over a decisive 7:14 stretch of the fourth quarter to turn a 32-28 deficit into a 40-34 lead. Becker tallied eight of those points, including a back-breaking three-pointer with 52 seconds left that put the Cougars up 39-34.
“It was one of those edge-of-your-seat games,” said Polly. “We won it in the last four minutes, and we won it with our defense. We locked down defensively. We came back with our half-court trap and we created some turnovers.”
“It was a game of runs, and Becker hit that ‘three’ at the end,” said Wenninger. “We talked about time and score. You’re the goat if you miss it and you’re the hero if you make it. Hats off to Katelyn. It was a long shot.”
The Falcons had held the Cougars without a point for a 5:49 third-quarter stretch that spilled over into the final period. The resulting 8-0 burst featured four points from Reese Glover, a driving lay-up by Sarah Laney and a Sarah Batra jumper, and it gave Cedar Crest a four-point edge.
“Each game has been an improvement,” said Polly. “I thought we took a little step back against Red Land, but I thought this was one of our better games. It was a good (Class) 6-A win. It’s going to be a feather in our caps with the power rankings. We’re excited.”
“Some of the things we talked about, we didn’t do real well,” said Wenninger. “You can’t fault the effort. It was my preparation. We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds. They (the Cougars) had points on second chances. The message all season long has been: good teams rebound the ball. We just have to keep emphasizing it, and that falls in my lap.”
Becker sliced and diced for 18 points, on five deuces, a pair of treys and two-for-three free throwing. With 18 points of her own, Glover matched Becker’s total, while Batra tossed in ten.
Palmyra outscored the Falcons 9-6 from three-point land, and by a single digit at the charity stripe.
“It was kind of Katelyn’s break-out game,” said Polly. “She saw the ball go in the basket and her confidence went up. I thought our ‘bigs’ collectively did a real nice job with their post players. Zoe Smith was a stopper. We put her on number 20 (Glover) and I thought she did a fantastic job out there.”
“They (the Cougars) did a nice job,” said Wenninger. “They defended well. Obviously their trap gave us problems. Sometimes we executed against it and sometimes we didn’t.”
With buckets from Mallory Deiderick, Kaya Camasta and Batra, the Falcons jumped out to an early 6-0 lead. But the Cougars responded with four points by Becker and an inside hoop from Mallory Margot to tie it.
“It was a slow start,” said Polly. “That may have been one of the fastest timeouts I’ve ever taken. We didn’t have that fire from the start. I told the girls, ‘If we play like this, we’re going to get our doors blown off’.”
“I do like having them on our schedule,” said Wenninger of the Cougars. “It’s a short trip. It’s a 6-A versus 5-A game. It’s a little bit of a county rivalry. That was our third straight loss to them and to be a rivalry you’ve got to win once in a while.”
Cedar Crest matched its biggest lead of the game at 16-10, with Brooke Shutter’s lay-in and Glover’s three-pointer at the beginning of the second stanza. But Palmyra notched the final six points of the first half, on two inside baskets by K.K. Hamilton and a stick-back from Margot, to take a 22-18 margin to the locker room.
“They’re great kids,” said Wenninger of his crew. “They want to get better. They’re very coach-able. I have to take the positivity and the effort better. I have to prepare them better.”