BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – They continue to push the limits of their ability. They just keep winning and winning. And they continue to redefine their goals.
But the beauty of it is the Palmyra Cougars are sort of making it up as they go along.
On Wednesday night, one of the finest Palmyra boys’ basketball seasons in recent memory got even better, with the Cougars’ high-scoring, 81-73 victory over rival Hershey. The Cougars used a bend-but-don’t break defensive approach, superior role playing and balanced scoring to overcome 43 points from Trojan senior center Dylan Painter.
The win was Palmyra’s tenth in its last 11 outings and raised its overall record to 15-4, and its mark within the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference to 8-4. With two conference games remaining, it would appear the second-place Cougars are a long shot to catch league pace-setter Bishop McDevitt.
But Palmyra, which posted a season-high point total, was rated seventh in the most recent District Three Class AAA rankings. The Cougars had defeated the same Trojan outfit 58-46 in Hershey back on December 22nd.
The result evened Hershey’s slate to 9-9 on the campaign and 6-6 in the division.
“No, I don’t see our ceiling,” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad. “It’s a great thing. I don’t want to put any limit on it. You try to keep your nose down. You try to make it a process. But these guys have become confident. Our goal is to be better everyday.
“We haven’t really talked about it much (postseason aspirations),” continued Conrad. “But we’re not stupid. We think there’s big things ahead of us.”
Palmyra never trailed after getting the lead late in the first half. But the Cougars weren’t able to put Hershey away either.
A three-ball from senior sharpshooter Austin Yetter midway through the final quarter gave Palmyra a 68-58 cushion, and another Yetter trey a minute later upped the Cougars’ advantage to 72-60. The Cougars netted their final nine points of the contest on seven-for-13 free throwing and a Sam Shiels lay-in.
“It’s meaningful just because it’s Hershey-Palmyra,” said Conrad. “You can look at other things. But any time Hershey and Palmyra get together, it’s going to be important.
“I would say that you want to make it hard for him (Painter), but you don’t want the other kids to go crazy either,” Conrad continued. “You never want to give up 43 points. He’s hard to referee. But our balance was great. That balance is going to help you win games.”
The Cougars began to create some distance between themselves and the Trojans in the third quarter.
Protecting a two-point edge, Palmyra pieced together a 7-0 run over a 2:42 stretch in the middle of the period to open a 50-41 advantage. Isaac Blatt maneuvered inside, Bryant Willis drained a three-pointer and Yetter pulled up for a deuce.
“The great thing about this group is that it has continued to improve,” said Conrad. “You don’t get that from every group. I don’t think you ever stay the same. We’ve gotten much better in our roles. I think there’s another level for this group.
“I certainly preach it,” Conrad added. “But it’s a special group of kids. These guys have shown that they have it in them.”
Yetter poured in a total of 32 points, on five three-pointers and five-of-six foul shooting. He was supported by Eric Lynn, who tallied 13, and Shiels, who scored ten.
Palmyra outscored Hershey 30-9 from beyond the arc.
Painter got his on 14 deuces and 15 of 16 free throw shooting.
“We couldn’t guard Dylan, but we had enough to get it done,” said Conrad. “He’s had some big games. But we had enough to overcome it, which says something about us. That’s a great win for us.
“Hershey played great. They’ve been playing great,” added Conrad. “The first time we played them, we were still finding ourselves. And I think they (the Trojans) were too. But that’s a really good win for us, an important win. I knew we were going to have to play well to win. I just thought our kids did a good job of answering them.”
Despite the fact that the Cougars were able to hold Painter in check early, Hershey was able to forge a 12-11 edge through the first eight minutes of action. Palmyra began to heat up in the second quarter, and ended the half with a flurry, and a 36-33 lead.
“We just had that spurt where we made a couple of shots,” said Conrad. “As much as any team in the league, we have become a tough match-up for Hershey. I think we were able to take advantage of those situations.
“Since I’ve been here, I haven’t had a better point guard than Eric Lynn,” concluded Conrad. “He basically never turns it over. He makes great decisions. I can’t say enough about him.”
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Keystone Division Standings
2015-16 Palmyra Boys’ Basketball Schedule
|6:00 PM||W 64-56|
|7:30 PM||W 66-49|
|7:30 PM||W 73-54|
|7:30 PM||L 54-58|
|7:30 PM||L 55-60|
|1:30 PM||W 52-49|
|7:30 PM||W 58-46|
|7:30 PM||L 57-63|
|2:00 PM||W 47-46|
|6:00 PM||W 56-49|
|4:30 PM||W 71-42|
|7:30 PM||W 73-66|
|7:30 PM||W 74-58|
|7:30 PM||W 75-46|
|8:00 PM||W 70-56|
|7:30 PM||W 79-60|
|7:30 PM||L 56-67|
|4:00 PM||W 68-56|
|7:30 PM||W 81-73|
|7:30 PM||Susquehanna Twp. High School|
|6:30 PM||Susquehannock High School|
|7:30 PM||Palmyra High School|
PIAA District Three
Class AAA Power Rankings