BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – What’s the difference between the ‘all or nothing’ and ‘cautiously optimistic’ approaches? Perhaps the realization that regular-season championships do not insure post-season success.
On Wednesday night, the Palmyra girls’ basketball team opened a wide-open District Three Class AAA tournament with tempered expectations, as well as a business-like, workmanlike 47-35 victory over Susquehannock. While they certainly didn’t showcase their best performance of the season, the Cougars did enough positive things to advance.
Two of those were playing good defense and playing with the lead. Once they established an advantage in the middle of the second quarter, the Cougars’ man-to-man refused to surrender it.
So now it’s on to Saturday’s Class AAA quarterfinals for the Mid-Penn Keystone Division champions, which entered this particular postseason as the number-one seed. Waiting for the 21-3 Cougars at 1 p.m. at East Pennsboro will be 18-7 and eighth-seeded West York, which dispatched Eastern York, 74-68 in overtime.
Susquehannock, the 17th seed, ended its campaign at 15-10.
“No, it’s not a district title or bust,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. “We had an unbeleivable season this year. This will probably go down as the second-best season in our 12 years, even if we lose the next two games. The number-one seeding is based on how you played during the regular season, and we played a heck of a schedule and had a heck of a year.
“This team is like most Palmyra teams in that it was built for the season,” Berman continued. “It was not built for an 11-day event. To win this, you need a superstar. We don’t have that type of basketball team. That shows up in a tournament like this. We don’t have a Division One player who can carry us.
“But the goal is always to go as far as you can. We thought in this round of 16 that there were ten teams that could win the district championship.It’s pot luck, but I thought we got the worst bracket we could’ve gotten.”
Maybe a bit rusty from a seven-day lay-off, it took the Cougars about 11 minutes of play to assert themselves. The score was deadlocked at 12 when a Maddie Good drive to the basket propelled Palmyra on an 8-0 run.
Kaitlin Carmo and Gabi Gundermann also contributed points during the 3:41 stretch, and when Gundermann coverted a lay-in seconds into the second half, the Cougars were sitting on a comfortable 22-14 cushion.
“We got a little jittery with the ball at times,” said Berman. “I thought we executed our press offense as good as we have, at times. But we also had a couple of unforced turnovers.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” Berman added. “The girls want to succeed, and they see the success the boys’ team is having. And I give Susquehannock a lot of credit. They do a nice job of speeding you up on offense.”
Riding its defense and outside shooting, Palmyra really took control of the outcome in the middle of the third quarter. Senior sniper Chelsea Ebersole nailed a pair of trifectas during a 14-5 barrage that extended the Cougars’ lead to 36-23.
Palmyra’s advantage reached 44-29 with 2:53 remaining, on a putback from Gundermann.
“I thought we played better overall offense in the second half,” said Berman. “At halftime we talked about being more patient, and we changed our attack a little bit. For whatever reason, we were able to get Chelsea open more. It just worked out better.
I thought Gabi (Gundermann) and Kristin Smoluk did a good job defensively,” Berman continued. “They’re (the Warriors) a good team. They score more than 50 a game and we held them to 30-something. Somtimes people forget how good the other team is. I’m very happy. Defensively we played good, and offensively we played good enough.”
Sophomore Carly Richardson carried the Cougars offensively early, netting nine of her 11 points in the first half. In the second half, Ebersole got it going by canning 11 of her team-high 13 points.
“We were off exactly a week,” said Berman. “We took some time off. We went to Shady Maple (Restaurant) to celebrate the Keystone championship. Then we came back on Monday. We wanted some fresh legs and some fresh minds.”