HERSHEY – They managed COVID-19. They got better as the year went along. They peaked at the right time. They qualified for the playoffs.
The Palmyra boys’ basketball team made the most out of the season and did the very best it could. But most importantly, the Cougars were served by ‘the process’.
On Tuesday night at Hershey High School, in the opening round of the District Three Class AAAAA postseason, Palmyra’s mostly successful campaign was ended by the homestanding Trojans, 48-44. Down the stretch, the Cougars were doomed by Hershey’s deliberate offense, an inability to hit big shots and ultimately by a 4:19 dry spell.
The outcome ended 13th-seeded Palmyra’s season at 10-9. It also marked the Cougars’ third close loss to their neighboring rival in eight days.
The Cougars also fell to Hershey 64-56 on February 24 and 50-47 on February 22.
With the victory, the Trojans improved to 12-4 on the season and moved into Thursday’s quarterfinal round of the Class AAAAA tournament.
“I think that it was a positive that we were able to get 19 games in, and that we were able to get a playoff game in,” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad. “We were very fortunate that we went the whole season without losing one of our games (to COVID-19). There were some unique situations. I thought it was good for the kids to be able to get these opportunities and, the life lessons you get from sports.
“Sometimes we talk about the process, and when they (his players) get that, it can be as joyous as winning games,” added Conrad. “We certainly improved as the season went along. We went from trying to figure out things to having our identity. Our team toughness and how we defended were two of our priorities.”
Palmyra was just a fourth-quarter play or two away from advancing.
Anthony Alviani’s bucket to open the final period gave the Cougars a 36-33 lead, and his three-pointer a few minutes later put Palmyra up 39-38. But Hershey scored the game’s next seven points to assume a 45-39 advantage, with less than 30 seconds left.
Twice, Palmyra pulled to within one score of the Trojans, on baskets from Chris Edwards and Alviani, but that was as close as it could come.
“I would say they just made a couple of shots,” said Conrad of the Trojans. “After a period there midway through the fourth, we weren’t able to see momentum again.”
After Hershey had enjoyed various cushions in the first half, Palmyra took its first lead of the night at 30-29, courtesy of an Eli Becker three-pointer and an Alviani drive, five minutes into the second half. The Cougars also led 34-33 thanks to an Edwards inside move and a Becker pull-up late in the third stanza.
“I guess we’ve just got to keep working to get over the hump,” said Conrad. “They’re (the Trojans) a good team. The Keystone (Division of the Mid-Penn Conference) is really good. I think you’ll see that with Lower Dauphin’s and Mechanicsburg’s results (in the District Three tournament). Unfortunately, we met up with Hershey in the first round. Its how it crumbles sometimes.”
With 11 points, Becker was the only Palmyra scorer to hit double digits. Jackson Mascari netted 20 Hershey points, and teammate Drew Colman contributed 13.
Hershey converted 11 of its 21 foul shots, but outscored the Cougars by ten points at the charity stripe.
“We’re very different than them,” said Conrad. “They play a little more size. But I love our guards and their toughness.”
Palmyra was hindered by a bit of a slow start. Hershey notched eight of the game’s first ten points and led 14-7 following the first eight minutes of action.
“We’re proud of the effort we put forth,” said Conrad. “But that’s a tough message to sell to the guys. We have a lot of respect for Hershey. We just couldn’t close the deal.”
The Cougars picked up the pace in the second quarter, and back-to-back pull-ups from Becker and then Quinton Townsend drew Palmyra to within 19-16 of the lead. A lay-in by Becker at the halftime buzzer made Hershey’s advantage at the break 24-21.
“I have a lot of respect for their (his players’) resilience,” said Conrad. “We were 2-5 at one point of the season. I’m not disappointed in our effort in any way. We did everything we can to win the game. It just didn’t work out for us.”
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