BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – The Palmyra girls’ basketball team simply has no desire to be something it is not. But last night we were afforded a glimpse of who the Cougars can be.
On Tuesday evening at home, the revamped and struggling Cougars snapped a four-game losing skein with a 33-29 overtime victory over previously unbeaten Mechanicsburg. After senior Molly Gundermann had sent the affair to overtime with an ice-in-her-veins three-pointer, with six seconds left in regulation, the Cougars outscored the Wildcats 6-2 in the extra session.
Palmyra netted the first three points in overtime, courtesy of a stop-and-pop and free throw from Gundermann. Then the Cougars put the needed outcome out of reach with a Kailey Werkheiser drive and an Amelia Baldo charity toss
With the win, Palmyra improved to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the Keystone Division of the Mid-Penn Conference. The Cougars are a season and four graduated seniors removed from one of the greatest spans in the history of Lebanon County girls’ basketball, one which included a District Three championship, two state tournament final four appearances, multiple Keystone Division titles and over a hundred wins.
The loss dropped Mechanicsburg to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Keystone.
“Right now, I’m doing better than I have in a while,” said Ron Berman, Palmyra’s veteran taskmaster. “I’m not saying it was a desperate need for us. We know we don’t have the offensive firepower we had last year. But we’ve been playing well. We’ve been playing better every game. We’ve been in games longer.
“Did a win help? Absolutely,” continued Berman. “I was probably as excited for these kids as I was in the state playoffs. They’re hard-working. They’ve done everything I’ve asked of them. We knew we don’t have the talent to be good. But we knew we had the talent to be competitive with every team we play.”
After trailing the hard-fought, defensive struggle most of the way, Palmyra held Mechanicsburg without a point for a key 9:51 stretch from the middle of the third quarter to late in the fourth. The Cougars clawed ahead 24-21, on the strength of a three-pointer from Hannah McLucas and free throws by Josie Stovall and Werkheiser.
But because of a number of critical turnovers in the last minute of the fourth quarter, the Cougars couldn’t put the Wildcats away, and faced a 27-24 deficit with 13 seconds left. Up stepped Gundermann, who found herself wide open at the top of the arc, before draining the game-tying three-pointer.
“Molly is our best offensive player,” said Berman. “She’s our most experienced player. She was our fifth scoring option last year. She’s not a committed basketball player. Molly is a three-sport athlete. It’s really hard to become that number-one option, but she’s trying. If we’re going to compete, those two (Gundermann and Stovall) are going to have to lead us. I thought the Werkheiser girl had her best game of the year. She has the third most experience, but she’s been playing timid. Tonight she stepped up.
“Our last three games, we shot 16 percent, 21 percent and 19 percent,” Berman continued. “We’re not a bad shooting team, but we’ve been shooting badly. We’re probably a better shooting team than the last couple of years when we got to the state final four. One of these days someone is going to pay.”
Gundermann tied Werkheiser for team-scoring honors by tallying nine points apiece. Thanks to 11 caroms from Gundermann and eight from Stovall, Palmyra out rebounded Mechanicsburg 38-29.
The Cougars, who held the Wildcats to 25 percent shooting from the field, connected on nine of their 16 free-throw attempts. Mechanicsburg went two-for-nine at the stripe.
“You’ve got three underclassmen on the floor, and two are freshmen,” said Berman of the final frantic moments of the fourth quarter. “They haven’t been in that situation before. I hated to put them in that game, but they’re my best players. We were fortunate to win, but it’ll be a learning experience for them. We haven’t led in the second half since our first game. It’s quite different. But we haven’t been put away.
“We did not lower our expectations from any team we’ve had,” Berman added. “I think you try to get players to play to the level where they want to be. Our expectation is to compete for a Mid-Penn Keystone Division title and try to make districts for the 15th season in-a-row. But we knew we had the least amount of talent that we’ve had in a long time. I think the players are beginning to understand that. We have to do the little things right. We have to pay attention to details.”
Mechanicsburg notched the final three points of the opening quarter and the initial two of the second stanza to turn an 8-6 edge into a 13-6 lead. A Werkheiser trey stopped the Cougars’ bleeding, but Palmyra managed only three more points over the final 5:34 of the half ,and found itself in a 17-12 hole at the break.
“I thought we did a great job defensively,” said Berman. “Even when both teams are really good, the scores in these games are usually low. It’s a reflection of our programs. I knew what kind of game it was going to be. They (the Wildcats) had us by five at halftime, and I thought, ‘Just stay in it’.
“We’ve played some good teams, with no practice time,” added Berman. “I think the kids take away the fact that we can compete with just about everyone. That and a lot of confidence.”
Palmyra started the second half with a 7-2 spurt and tied the score at 19 on a Stovall lay-in with 3:49 left in the third quarter. Included in the run were a Gundermann steal and lay-up, a Baldo stop-and-pop and an Olivia Richardson foul shot.
“I love this group of players. I very much enjoy them,” said Berman. “My staff and I have worked as hard in the first five weeks of this season as we did in the entire 17 weeks last year. I’m enjoying it greatly. I believe our hard work has already begun to show up. We’ve played well the last three games in-a-row. We’ve got to keep teaching offense. Are there frustrations? Sure. I like to think of myself as a Christian gentleman. Seasons like this make you appreciate what you have, and what you had in the past.”
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|12/04 #||Pine Grove||5:00 PM||W 63-34|
|12/05 #||@Northern Lebanon||7:00 PM||L 28-39|
|12/08 *||@Bishop McDevitt||7:30 PM||L 47-55|
|12/09||@Hempfield||7:30 PM||L 32-41|
|12/11 *||Lower Dauphin||7:30 PM||L 19-33|
|12/15 *||Mechanicsburg||7:30 PM||W 33-29|
|12/18 *||@Red Land||7:30 PM||Red Land High School|
|12/22 *||Hershey||7:30 PM||Palmyra High School|
|01/05 *||@Susquehanna Twp.||7:30 PM||Susquehanna Twp. High School|
|01/08 *||Cedar Cliff||7:30 PM||Palmyra High School|
|01/09||@Muhlenberg||1:30 PM||Muhlenberg High School|
|01/12 *||Bishop McDevitt||7:30 PM||Palmyra High School|
|01/15 *||@Lower Dauphin||7:30 PM||Lower Dauphin High School|
|01/19 *||@Mechanicsburg||7:30 PM||Mechanicsburg High School|
|01/22 *||Red Land||7:30 PM||Palmyra High School|
|01/26 *||@Hershey||7:30 PM||Hershey High School|
|01/27||Cedar Crest||7:30 PM||Palmyra High School|
|01/29 *||Susquehanna Twp.||7:30 PM||Palmyra High School|
|01/30||@Cocalico||2:00 PM||Cocalico High School|
|02/02 *||@Cedar Cliff||7:30 PM||Cedar Cliff High School|