LEBANON – Sure there were the obligatory ups and downs, would’ve, could’ve, should’ves and pains and triumphs. But in the big picture, the Palmyra boys’ basketball team squeezed every bit of success out of its season that it possibly could.
On Friday night at Lebanon High, the Cougars’ successful 2012-13 campaign reached a climax in a 48-44 loss to Philadelphia Electric and Technology, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs. But Palmyra went down in true Cougar fashion – by playing hard, playing together and playing smart.
By fighting, scratching and clawing – but never quite being able to get over the hump – the Cougars were in it until the bitter end, or at least until two crucial late turnovers sealed its fate.
Down 46-44 with 40 seconds to go, Palmyra forced an open-floor turnover, but then in its haste to rush the ball upscourt, turned the ball right back over to the Chargers. Then down 47-44, and out of a timeout with nine seconds left, a Cougar ball handler dribbled the ‘rock’ off his leg and out of bounds, before Palmyra could even attempt a potential game-tying three-pointer.
It says here that Palmyra, the runner-up from District Three, enjoyed an 18-9 campaign. Philadelphia Electric, the third-place finisher out of District 12 (Philly), improved to 16-11 overall.
“It certainly wasn’t the effort,” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad of his charges. “They played incredibly hard. They played like a team whose season was on the line.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Palmyra senior guard Trey Baker. “It says a lot about us. We’ve been playing together since elementary school. But I wouldn’t want to play basketball with anyone else.”
Despite being without emotional leader Logan Stovall for long stretches of the contest due to foul difficulties, the Cougars hung right with the mature and talented Chargers. But even though they kept it close, Palmyra never led after Shawn Robinson had given it an 18-15 lead with a couple of free throws, 3:21 before the break.
Palmyra did close to within 46-44 on a pair of charity tosses from Baker with 1:02 remaining. A Baker trey 1:41 earlier had pulled the Cougars to 44-41.
“We had a couple of guys with some options to get threes,” said Conrad of Palmyra’s final possession. “It just didn’t work out. They (the Chargers) did a really good job of pressuring the basketball.
“We didn’t get on the offensive glass,” continued Conrad. “And yeah, we’ve got to make some shots.”
“The difference was just a few costly mistakes,” said Baker. “They were costly, but they happen. No blame gets put on anyone. We lose as a team. We picked them up. But we had a lot of opportunities.”
The biggest deficit Palmyra faced came at 30-21, 2:52 into the second half. But the Cougars held Philadelphia Electric scoreless for the next 3:34 and moved to within 30-28 on a banked in three-pointer from Baker.
“Logan’s a very, very talented player,” said Conrad, “and having him in foul trouble was detrimental to us. We have other guys on the bench who are comparable in talent. And those guys kept us in the game.”
With the Chargers keeping Palmyra marksman Adam Newhard under wraps, Baker, who notched 18 points, was the only scorer to reach double digits. The Cougars went just two-for-11 from three-point land.
“We think we can play other ways, but threes are important to us,” said Conrad. “There were a lot of ‘ifs’. And Logan being in foul trouble hurt.”
A hard drive to the bucket by Baker midway through the second period gave the Cougars a 14-13 lead. But Philadelphia Electric carried a 23-21 margin to the halftime locker room.
“They’re a very good team,” said Conrad of the Chargers. “Both of their guards are Division One prospects. They have some really good athletes. But there were just times where we didn’t make shots.”