MYERSTOWN – ‘Play hard. Play smart. Play together. And have fun.’
Oh, and one other thing, ‘Thou shalt please be athletic.’
Four games into the 2012-13 campaign, and because of its team play and athleticism, the Palmyra girls’ basketball team is still looking for a game. On Thursday night at Elco High School, the Cougars matched the gritty Raiders’ home-court intensity in the first half, then overwhelmed their hosts in the second, on their way to a 64-29 triumph.
After opening a ten-point advantage late in the second period, Palmyra outscored Elco 35-10 in the second half. The Cougars were on the verge of shutting out the Raiders in the fourth quarter, before Elco’s Kathleen Gilbertson beat the buzzer.
For the Cougars, it was their fourth straight blowout win. Now 4-0 overall, Palmyra’s average margin of victory is above 35 points.
The loss dropped Elco to 1-2 on the campaign.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said veteran Palmyra boss Ron Berman when asked about his club’s potential. “We need to develop that eighth and ninth player so some of the other girls can get rest. I think we can get better defensively. We play hard now, but certainly there are things that can be improved.
“I think we’re still a team without a big physical player,” Berman added. “And we still don’t have a true point guard. We have to do it by committee or through our bullpen.”
“They’re athletic,” said Elco head coach Ashli Shay of the Cougars. “Everyone can shoot. Everyone seems to be 5-10. They all get their hands on the ball. They’re just good. They play well together. (Carly) Richardson doesn’t seem to miss.
“I think they’re (the Cougars) all pretty darn good,” added Shay. “I’d take any one of them. Obviously Richardson stuck out tonight. We knew we wanted to zone them, because man-for-man we’d struggle.”
With the Raiders still hanging around, Palmyra settled the issue at the start of the second half. With Kristen Smoluk netting eight straight Cougar points, Palmyra opened a 37-21 advantage midway through the third quarter.
Then the Cougars ended the stanza on a 12-4 roll – during which Smoluk and Richardson did a majority of the damage – to up their bulge to 49-27. And if that wasn’t enough, Palmyra tallied the first 15 points of the final quarter.
By that point, everyone in the gym was a Palmyra believer.
“We started the second half by making a few baskets,” said Berman. “We talked at halftime about attacking the baseline against their 2-3 zone. When you do that, it really stretches the defense. And I thought we got after them defensively.
“I think we won,” Berman continued. “This was a good test for us. Elco is very much improved. I felt they were the first team athletically, that could come close to matching up with us. I don’t know how skilled it was, but this was the first time we were in a hostile environment, which was a good thing.”
“In the second half, I thought they (the Cougars) stepped it up, and we fell off a little bit,” said Shay. “They (the Cougars) don’t run out of gas. They just keep going.
“We (the coaching staff) walked into the locker room, and they (her players) were upset. There were some tears,” continued Shay. “That says more than anything to me. I think it’s great that they’re upset because we lost.”
Richardson poured in a game-high 27 points that featured a trio of three-point field goals and four-for-four charity tossing. Smoluk, an emerging sophomore, complemented her nicely with 15 points, 12 of which came in the second half.
With its 16-for-20 shooting, Palmyra outscored Elco by 14 points at the foul stripe.
“Carly Richardson is really maturing as a player,” said Berman. “She’s a great young lady. She’s a three-year starter. She’s playing swing and she played inside two years. And if you get up on her, she’ll drive by you.
“Losing the Good sisters (Maddie and Callie), it forced us to be a different type of team,” added Berman. “Carly did move into a leadership role. She’s one of our tri-captains. Yeah, I think she has taken on more responsibility. And that makes her more confident on the floor.”
“People just have to step up,” said Shay. “We have the kids who can do it. When Kady Yoders sees her moments, she takes them. My ‘bigs’ can score. But I don’t care who scores. I just want to score.
“Honestly, before the game I said to the girls, ‘I have a good feeling in my stomach’,” Shay continued. “I knew they (her players) were going to come in and play well. I was thinking if we box out, make them (the Cougars) miss and get the rebound we’ll be in good position. And if we can take time off the clock on offense, we’ll be in good position.”
After Palmyra had scored nine of the game’s first ten points, the Raiders closed to within 15-12 on a three-ball from Halie Parker to open the second quarter, and 22-19 on a stickback by Sydnie Parker. But Elco didn’t score over the final 3:48 of the first half, while the Cougars got a three-pointer out of Richardson and a pair of free throws apiece from Katie McClellan and Maria Tukis, to take a 29-19 lead to the break.
“I’m very impressed with how Elco played,” said Berman. “But we’re a little better offensively skilled than they are.”
“If we give the effort we gave in the first half against everybody else, we’ll be fine,” said Shay. “I don’t think the score reflected the effort. In the second half, we got sloppy. But at that point, the game was it was. I’m not upset or anything.
“I thought we played great defensively,” Shay added. “They (the Cougars) took some tough shots that they missed, we had good position, but they got the offensive rebound. They’re (the Coutars) going to make noise in the playoffs. They’re a great team. They’re going to win a lot of games.”