BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – On a team where there is more prestige associated with taking a charge than knocking down a three-pointer, every outing is an opportunity. That speaks to the essence of self-motivation.
Although the contest lacked the intensity and meaning of a winner’s bracket game, the Palmyra girls’ basketball team competed hard and smart during its District Three Class AAA consolation game at Milton Hershey School on Friday night. And on the end of that motivation was a good result, a 48-44 victory over Trinity.
Back-and-forth much of the way, Palmyra may have wanted it a little more down the stretch. In the end, free throws and defense were the difference for the now 23-4 Cougars.
As the third seed from District Three, Palmyra will make its eighth appearance in the PIAA Class AAA tournament in the last ten years on Saturday, March 10, against the District 11 runner-up, at a site to be announced. The Mid-Penn Keystone Division champion Cougars entered the District Three playoffs as the top seed in Class AAA.
Trinity, the second seed and now 20-7, finished fourth in the event.
“If you would’ve told me before the playoffs we’d finish third I would’ve said, ‘Where do I sign,'” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. “Because that means we had three wins and one loss. We got to Giant Center and had a great experience. I’m being honest. Third place was a heck of a finish, based on our draw.
“I don’t want to say it was meaningless, third is better than fourth,” continued Berman. “It’s a hard game to play. But I was really proud of the effort. They (his players) were very motivated. Lancaster Catholic (Palmyra’s semifinal opponent on Wednesday) is a very good team, but we didn’t lose the way we should have.”
With the score tied at 41 late, Palmyra outscored the Shamrocks 7-3 the rest of the way.
The Cougars stepped up defensively and held Trinity without a point for a key 2:37 stretch. Palmyra also received some clutch free throw shooting from senior Chelsea Ebersole and sophomore Carly Richardson.
But the decisive play came from emerging sophomore Maddie Good. With 1:12 remaining, Good grabbed a defensive board, sprinted up the floor with the ball and went coast-to-coast for a lay-up that snapped the deadlock and gave her team the lead for good.
“I think they’re playing for themselves,” said Berman. “But Chelsea is leading them more than ever. Last year we didn’t have a senior, and if you don’t have a senior it’s like you’re satisfied. This year, everyday Chelsea says, ‘This is it.’
“The more pressure situations you’re in the better it is for the team,” Berman added. “The bottom line is, out of our top eight, seven are underclassmen. You hope it’s more of a learning experience for them.”
Ebersole canned three of Palmyra’s four three-point field goals, went five-for-five at the charity stripe and accumulated 18 points. M. Good contributed 13 points to the effort.
“I don’t think the win made a big difference in terms of states,” said Berman. “We saved maybe half an hour on our bus ride. There wasn’t a lot of motivation, besides the fact it was Trinity. Either team will have a really tough private school for their opener.”
After leading by four points at the break, the Cougars opened a 35-28 lead late in the third quarter on buckets from Ebersole and Richardson. But the Shamrocks pieced together a 11-4 spurt to tie the game at 39 in the middle of the final stanza.
“The goal for states is to go as far as you can,” said Berman. “Right now, it’s to win the first game. We’ve never gotten past the second round.
“Well, you’ve only got to win five in-a-row (to win the state championship), it’s not like 30,” added Berman. “But we’re going to have to pull five upsets. I’d have to have pretty big odds for me to put money on us to win it.”
The Cougars scored nine unanswered points during a stretch that spanned the first and second quarters, and it gave them an 18-9 advantage. But Palmyra failed to score over the next five minutes and the Shamrocks came back to tie it.