PALMYRA – If reaching the postseason is part of the process, then the Palmyra boys’ basketball team needs to continue to improve.
If prolonging their season is an aspiration, then the Cougars have some work to do.
If qualifying for districts is a goal, then Palmyra needs more outcomes like last night’s.
On Friday night at Palmyra High School, the Cougars’ season-long improvement manifested itself in a 54-15, mercy-rule triumph over visiting Red Land. Palmyra used two devastating first-half runs to open a 31-point intermission bulge, and then the second half was shortened by a continually running game clock.
The victory, the third in its last four outings, improved Palmyra to 5-6 overall. In the latest District Three power rankings for an AAAAA classification that takes 16 teams for its postseason tournament, the Cougars were situated 17th.
With the result, Red Land dropped to 1-8 on the year. Earlier in the year, back on January 20, Palmyra had won 60-31 at Red Land.
“I try not to spend a lot of time thinking about it,” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad. “I can’t control that formula. Now, do I want to be in districts? Yes, I do. Do my guys want to be in districts? Yes, they do. I don’t think about where we are, but it is a big deal.
“I’m proud of these guys because we’ve gotten increasingly better as the season has gone on,” Conrad added. “I think we’ve been able to quantify it in our performance. Not that we’re perfect. But not everybody is getting better at this time of the year. We’re starting to understand who we are. The challenge for these guys is to continue that process.”
Palmyra was in charge of the outcome from the opening tap.
Behind five points apiece from Chris Edwards and Quinton Townsend, a lay-in by Roman Byler and an Eli Becker stick-back, Palmyra netted the first 14 points of the game. During that four-minute stretch, the Cougars applied pressure to the ball, turned the Patriots over and tallied quick, easy points.
The opening period ended with the Cougars up 16-2.
“I think it was the ball pressure,” said Conrad. “That’s something they’ve (the Patriots) struggled with. We’re a tough match-up for them. Townsend and (Daniel) Baldo put a lot of pressure on their guards.
“When you’re down 8-0, that’s a tough spot to be in,” added Conrad. “So I thought we put them in a tough spot with our pressure. I think Townsend had a couple of steals early. He’s a really active defender.”
Palmyra hit Red Land with another smothering outburst over the final 5:38 of the second quarter, parlaying a 13-0 spurt into a 36-5 halftime advantage. That run featured four points by Becker, a lay-in from Edwards, a trey by Gavin Bean, a free throw from Trey Hilbert and Brennan Almond’s long, buzzer-beating three-pointer.
“I thought our level of focus and seriousness and energy was really good,” said Conrad. “I don’t want to detract from Red Land, but we handled them over there. You worry about how guys are going to react. Some of it is just human nature.
“I thought we were fortunate tonight,” continued Conrad. “One of the things that got us the lead was we were unselfish. It was one of the things we talked about at halftime. We also talked about some specific tactical things we could do better.”
Edwards tallied a game-high 19 points on six deuces, a pair of treys and one-for-two free throwing. The Cougars outscored the Patriots 21-3 from three-point land.
“We had to have it, no doubt,” said Conrad. “That was evident in how we approached it. As much as we do talk about process, the players are hungry for that confirmation. This is something we had to have.”
With the outcome not in doubt, the entire second half was an exercise in hurried, discombobulated mayhem.
Palmyra also posted the last six points of the third quarter, on a Baldo drive, a Becker pull-up and a Byler inside move, to extend its lead to 47-10. And when Edwards recorded the initial three points of the final period, the Cougars had themselves a 50-10 bulge.
“I hate the mercy rule,” said Conrad. “I’ve been on the wrong side of it too. We’re all out here trying to get better. We’re all trying to figure out minutes. There are guys who deserve a chance to play. I get why there’s support for it.
“I bet if you asked my guys, they like being in that situation, but they want to keep playing,” Conrad continued. “When you’re a player, you want to get a chance to play and compete.”
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