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 BY JEFF FALK

 READING – Athletics imitate life. And sometimes, athletics can transcend life.

  In sports, anything truly can happen. Dreams do come true. And pure pursuits can morph into magical journeys and memorable destinations.

 On Friday evening at Reading’s Santander Center, the Palmyra girls’ basketball team downed Gettysburg 31-23 in the Class AAAAA title tilt, to capture an improbable and inspiring District Three championship. Following a first half in which their shots simply wouldn’t fall, the Cougars asserted themselves as clearly the better team by outscoring the Warriors 22-9 over the second 16 minutes of action.

 After Palmyra almost missed out on qualify for the Class AAAAA postseason, the Cougars claimed their second District Three girls’ basketball title in five years by defeating the tournament’s fifth-, fourth-, first- and third-seeded teams along the way. Palmyra had endured a low point in the middle of the season when senior catalyst Amelia Baldo and sophomore Katelyn Becker were both sidelined by injury.

 But under the guidance of Baldo and fellow senior leader Olivia Richardson, the Cougars’ supporting cast of Jess St. Clair, Zoe Smith and Becker really grew up quickly.

 The victory was its eighth straight and upped Palmyra’s overall mark to 16-10 overall. The newly crowned District Three champions will open play in the PIAA Class AAAAA postseason on Saturday against the sixth-place finisher out of District One, at a site and location yet to be determined.

 The result dropped Gettysburg to 22-6 on the season.

 “At one point before districts, we went through a brainstorming sessions,” said Palmyra head coach Mary Manlove. “We broke our team into four groups, and two of the groups said their goal was to beat Lampeter-Strasburg (in the opening round of the tournament). The other two groups said their goal was gold. That was a good mix of short-term and long-term goals.

 “This means we’re the last team standing,” continued Manlove. “We’re pretty excited about that. The kids were able to compete on a daily basis and they pushed each other. Our team prepared us for this moment, that and the Mid-Penn Conference.”

 “We played the four, the five, the one and the three, and we thrived in this environment,” said Richardson, of the Cougars’ unlikely run. “It’s fun to prove everyone wrong and show them we can do this. I don’t think anyone thought we could win this.

 “This is crazy,” Richardson continued. “Amelia and I have been dreaming of this for a long time. I saw my sister (Carly) do it when I was in the eighth grade.”

 The Cougars grabbed their destiny by the horns in the third quarter, and simply refused to let it go.

 Down five, Palmyra notched the first eight points of the second half – on baskets by Becker, St. Clair and Richardson, and a couple of foul shots from Smith – to assume a 17-14 edge. Then, the Cougars closed the third quarter with four unanswered points by Smith to push their advantage to 23-18.

 “There was no conern at halftime,” said Manlove, who’s in her third season as the Cougars’ head coach. “Five points, that’s two possessions. But we made an adjustment. We wanted everybody to be a threat. We wanted everyone to contribute. We wanted offensive momentum to be our focus.

 “I also told the girls they were being very timid,” added Manlove. “I said, ‘Let’s go out and take what we want’. We didn’t want to speed it up. We wanted to enjoy the whole process. We wanted them to relish it.”

 “We were a little shaky in the first half,” said Richardson. “We settled down in the second half and grinded for 16 minutes. After halftime, we came out with the mentality, ‘This is ours. No one is going to take it away from us.'”

 In the fourth quarter, the Cougars could smell the blood that was in the water.

 A Baldo driving lay-in pushed the Palmyra lead to 25-18 and a Richardson jumper made it 27-22, and stemmed a little Gettysburg momentum. It was somehow fitting that it was Baldo and Richardson who iced it, with a couple of free throws apiece over the final 1:02.

 “We never felt like we were an underdog,” said Manlove. “I don’t think we were out to prove people wrong. We were out to accomplish what we were able to accomplish. They (her players) were process focused. We were focused on how we could play our best.

 “I think we’re really smart defensively,” Manlove continued. “We were really strong and we got rebounds. We wanted them (the Warriors) to go one-and-done.”

 “After we lost to (Bishop) McDevitt (in the middle of the season) and Amelia had been out for a while, coach said to me, “Hey Liv, it’s you and me,'” said Richardson. “We had to fight to get to districts. They (the underclassmen) just stepped up when Amelia was out. They knew they had to grow up. They never got rattled.”

 In a game that was a battle of defensive wills throughout, Smith notched 13 points to lead the Cougars. Palmyra held Gettysburg to eight total field goals.

 “We’re thriving in tight games,” said Manlove. “We did it in the regular season. We had some painful, painful losses. But we know exactly how to handle it. We’re thankful for those losses. Those ten losses showed us how to win. We never saw them as failures.”

 Despite getting good looks at the basket, Palmyra experience difficulties scoring early. But an inside move from St. Clair and a foul shot from Smith near the end of the opening stanza staked the Cougars to a modest 6-5 lead.

 “There was a point in the season when we didn’t have Becker and we lost Baldo,” said Manlove. “We were really focused on winning five of the next seven games (to get to districts). The kids did a great job of hanging in there. Her (Baldo) being out made everybody compete in a different way. Now everybody’s a threat.”

 “Maybe right now, we don’t realize what we’ve accomplished,” said Richardson. “But we’re going to have these gold medals the rest of our lives and there’s going to be a big banner hanging in our gym. And that’s going to be incredible.”

 A pair of Richardson baskets in the middle of the second period gave the Cougars a 9-7 lead. But Palmyra did not score over the final 4:39 of the first half, and the Warriors led 14-9 in the locker room.

 “I’m just hoping to continue the winning ways Coach (Ron) Berman would be proud of,” said Manlove, speaking to the history of the Palmyra girls’ basketball program. “There’s lady Cougar principles still here. The kids who were here before set certain standards, and we hope to live up to them. The gym’s filled with banners. The girls know they’re part of something special. We didn’t let things drop on our watch.

 “It is hard to coach sports,” concluded Manlove. “But anyone who coaches at Palmyra is lucky. I see members of our administration at every game. I get emails from them. They are the most approachable and supportive group of administrators I’ve ever been associated with. They breed success. They provide great leadership.”

 Play hard. Play smart. And play together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 To purchase images in this article email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com, or to view more go to https://lebanonsportsbuzz.com/photo-gallery/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 2018-19 Palmyra Girls’ Basketball Results

 

Date Opponent Outcome
12/75:00p (W) 52 – 29
12/86:45p (W) 43 – 25
12/117:30p
Location: Palmyra High School
(W) 44 – 37
12/147:30p
Location: Palmyra High School
(L) 47 – 44
12/177:30p
Location: Palmyra High School
(W) 46 – 24
12/217:30p
Location: Hershey High School
(L) 34 – 26
12/227:30p
Location: Palmyra High School
(W) 43 – 26
12/27TBA (L) 45 – 36
12/28TBA (W) 47 – 29
1/512:30a
Location: Palmyra High School
(L) 45 – 43
1/8TBA (W) 40 – 37
1/11TBA (L) 45 – 30
1/157:30p
Location: Cedar Cliff High School
(L) 37 – 30
1/187:30p
Location: Bishop McDevitt High School
(L) 52 – 34
1/216:00p
Location: Wilson High School
(L) 43 – 40
1/217:30p
 
(L) 43 – 40
1/227:30p
Location: Red Land High School
(W) 31 – 26
1/257:30p
Location: Palmyra High School
(L) 40 – 39
2/1TBA (L) 46 – 33
2/2TBA (W) 40 – 19
 
 
 
2/8TBA (W) 46 – 15
2/19TBA (W) 41 – 35
2/227:00p
Location: Spring Grove High School
(W) 43 – 41
2/26TBA (W) 54-51, OT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PIAA District Three

 Final Class AAAAA Power Rankings

AAAAA School  W  L  T  Rating  TWP  OWP  TWPW  OWPW  TWPL  OWPL
1 Solanco 18- 4- 0  0.736200  0.857143  0.588381  21.0  284.1  3.5  198.8
2 Twin Valley 15- 4- 0  0.732127  0.846154  0.592761  17.1  240.8  3.1  165.4
3 Gettysburg Area 18- 4- 0  0.705815  0.846473  0.533900  20.4  254.4  3.7  222.1
4 Spring Grove Area 16- 6- 0  0.702875  0.795745  0.589367  18.7  286.6  4.8  199.7
5 Lampeter Strasburg 16- 6- 0  0.702409  0.773109  0.615998  18.4  297.3  5.4  185.3
6 South Western 15- 5- 0  0.701836  0.800448  0.581311  17.9  255.1  4.5  183.7
7 Lower Dauphin 16- 6- 0  0.701542  0.783898  0.600884  18.5  292.3  5.1  194.2
8 Mechanicsburg Area Senior 18- 4- 0  0.700118  0.857741  0.507469  20.5  242.9  3.4  235.8
9 Susquehannock 14- 7- 0  0.684251  0.720554  0.639881  15.6  301.8  6.1  169.9
10 Berks Catholic School 12- 6- 0  0.659913  0.708108  0.601008  13.1  232.5  5.4  154.4
11 Elizabethtown Area 16- 6- 0  0.656474  0.805785  0.473982  19.5  218.2  4.7  242.1
12 Palmyra Area 12- 10- 0  0.634676  0.620536  0.651958  13.9  321.4  8.5  171.6
13 Cocalico 14- 8- 0  0.626395  0.693617  0.544236  16.3  257.8  7.2  215.9
14 Greencastle Antrim 14- 6- 0  0.609293  0.727273  0.465097  15.2  192.6  5.7  221.5
15 West York Area 11- 11- 0  0.575481  0.570485  0.581587  13.0  278.9  9.8  200.7
16 New Oxford 9- 13- 0  0.541281  0.490521  0.603320  10.4  292.6  10.8  192.4
17 Donegal 10- 12- 0  0.537614  0.509009  0.572575  11.3  274.8  10.9  205.1
18 Hershey 9- 13- 0  0.536501  0.481395  0.603853  10.4  294.7  11.2  193.3
19 Shippensburg 10- 12- 0  0.531699  0.513636  0.553775  11.3  264.4  10.7  213.1
20 York Suburban 8- 14- 0  0.495091  0.408451  0.600985  8.7  286.7  12.6  190.4
21 Conrad Weiser 8- 14- 0  0.477684  0.423810  0.543530  8.9  250.4  12.1  210.3
22 Northeastern 6- 16- 0  0.453320  0.321951  0.613882  6.6  301.6  13.9  189.7
23 Muhlenberg 6- 16- 0  0.438012  0.334951  0.563975  6.9  260.5  13.7  201.4
24 Garden Spot 6- 16- 0  0.430695  0.331731  0.551652  6.9  263.8  13.9  214.4
25 Daniel Boone 7- 15- 0  0.396122  0.345238  0.458313  7.3  191.9  13.8  226.8
26 Manheim Central 3- 18- 0  0.388059  0.179221  0.643305  3.5  302.5  15.8  167.7
27 Northern York 6- 16- 0  0.382436  0.316038  0.463590  6.7  215.5  14.5  249.4
28 Red Land 2- 20- 0  0.371486  0.125000  0.672748  2.5  331.9  17.5  161.5
29 Dover 2- 19- 0  0.337989  0.121372  0.602744  2.3  281.2  16.7  185.3
30 Waynesboro Area 1- 21- 0  0.307650  0.057789  0.613035  1.2  292.1  18.8  184.4
31 Milton Hershey 1- 18- 0  0.296188  0.063361  0.580754  1.2  240.2  17.0  173.4
32 East Pennsboro Area 2- 20- 0  0.291158  0.106977  0.516268  2.3  240.4  19.2  225.3

 

 

 

 

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