BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – The Palmyra girls’ basketball team has lost two games over the past two seasons. And there is a major difference between the one the Cougars dropped last season and the one they lost this year.
On Friday night, the Cougars made amends for their most recent loss by dismantling Cedar Cliff 67-32. Palmyra used its 2-2-1 full court pressure to create a favorable opening pace and nailed its first ten free throws of the game, before putting the outcome to rest in the middle of the third quarter.
Palmyra, which dropped a 39-38 decision to rival Hershey on Wednesday evening, improved to 12-1 overall and 8-1 in a Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference which it has owned over the last few years. The Cougars have now won 41 of 43 outings dating back to the 2012-13 campaign.
With the loss, Cedar Cliff fell to 1-10 on the year and 0-8 in the division.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” said Palmyra head coach Ron Berman, whose Cougars had a 29-game winning streak snapped by a season-ending loss in last season’s state playoffs. “We had a really tough loss against a very good Hershey team. For whatever reason, I didn’t think we had the fire and spirit. We played more not to lose than to win. But tonight we kind of regrouped.
“We haven’t been able to practice because of the weather, and we’re still a pretty young team,” Berman continued. “I thought it showed on Monday (against Trinity) and Wednesday (against Hershey). I was upset with the way we played on Monday and Wednesday, and it’s always magnified when you lose. We didn’t make a whole lot of adjustments, we just brought the spark and fire.”
Against the Colts, that fire and spark was generated by the Cougars’ 2-2-1 pressure defense, which caused both turnovers and athletic opportunities in the open floor. Offensively, it took Palmyra all of five seconds of the opening quarter to score, as Josie Stovall drove the opening tap for a quick lead.
Kristen Smoluk and Carly Richardson followed it up with similar drives for two, and the Cougars opened a 6-0 lead they would never relinquish. Then with Cedar Cliff struggling through a near six-minute scoring drought, Palmyra grabbed a 22-7 lead on a Richardson bucket, 6:45 before halftime.
“I would think it showed our character,” said Berman. “There’s a Dick Vermeil quote that says, ‘If you don’t invest very much, then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning is not very exciting’. If you’re used to winning, then losing has to hurt. We talk about the investment that some of the girls have put into this.
“Against Hershey I don’t think we felt like we got beat as much as we lost,” added Berman. “Hershey did some great things, but we didn’t walk out of the locker room thinking Hershey beat us. We talked to the girls and challenged them. I felt like tonight, Cedar Cliff was going to get our best, because we have a lot of winning kids. Being home helps, but we had a lot of energy. Cedar Cliff has a nice five or six (players), but they don’t have depth. I thought if we could get that separation we’d be OK.”
Already sitting on a 16-point cushion, the Cougars doubled up the Colts 10-5 in the middle of the second period to open a 37-16 bulge. Smoluk notched four points in the Palmyra outburst, as did Stovall, while Maria Tukis contributed a lay-in.
“We’ve been opening in a 2-2-1 press for a couple of years now,” said Berman. “It gets us moving and gets us started. And then normally we go full court man (-to-man) in the second quarter. But if the 2-2-1 is giving teams enough trouble, we’ll stay in it. We’re probably staying in it longer. It did. It definitely bothered them. But we were very focused.
” I don’t know if it’s fair, but from the first summer game, this team has been compared to last year’s team,” continued Berman. “They feel like they can’t lose. This group felt from the very beginning, ‘we’ve got to win every game’. We need to enjoy the moment and see where this journey takes us. When we were 11-0, people were saying, ‘you’re going to go undefeated’. That was last year’s team. We’re not there yet.”
With 17 points, Richardson led a group of eight Cougar scorers. That listed also featured Stovall and her 16 points.
Palmyra finished 14-of-17 at the foul stripe, and outscored Cedar Cliff by 12 points there.
“It’s not good enough for me, right now,” said Berman of his team’s overall improvement. “I don’t think we’ve improved as much as we need to or are capable of. We’re not near our capabilities. We’re not getting better because I’m not sure our individuals are getting better, because they’re not getting the personal breakdowns they need. But you need to play the 22 games.”
With Stovall, Tukis, Richardson and Katy McClellan doing the damage, the Cougars recorded the first eight points of the second half to extend their lead to 45-21. Then for good measure, Palmyra collected the last eight points of the third quarter – five of which came from reserve Kelsey McNamara – to push its advantage to 53-25.
“My hope is she’ll be back soon and then we’ll start working her in,” said Berman of the impending return of junior point guard Katie Dembrowski. “There’s four weeks left in the regular season, so we can’t bring her back slowly. She’s in shape, but if she gets the OK, she’s going to be a rusty basketball player. She’s going to be a great defender and a great substitute.”
|Palmyra||8 – 1 – 0||12 – 1 – 0|
|Mechanicsburg||7 – 1 – 0||10 – 2 – 0|
|Lower Dauphin||5 – 3 – 0||7 – 5 – 0|
|Trinity||4 – 3 – 0||5 – 5 – 0|
|Red Land||4 – 4 – 0||6 – 5 – 0|
|Susquehanna Twp.||3 – 4 – 0||5 – 7 – 0|
|Hershey||3 – 6 – 0||6 – 7 – 0|
|Bishop McDevitt||2 – 6 – 0||2 – 7 – 0|
|Cedar Cliff||0 – 8 – 0||1 – 10 – 0|
Lebanon Sports Buzz
Lebanon County Girls’ Basketball Rankings
2. Cedar Crest
3. Lebanon High
6. Northern Lebanon
7. Lebanon Catholic