By JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – In the bigger picture, there are more important achievements than winning a district preliminary game.
But everything is relative. For a once-beleagured Palmyra boys’ basketball team, winning a District Three Class AAA play-in game was akin to winning a Super Bowl, a World Series title and a Stanley Cup.
Not only did the Cougars win one in a convincing, uplifting fashion on Friday night, they did it on their home floor. Thriving on opponent Milton Hershey’s up-tempo pace, Palmyra walked – or more accurately ran – away with a 75-55 triumph.
And when one considers from hence the Cougars came, the triumph was even more impressive. Palmyra is but two years removed from a 1-21 campaign and a miserable 41-game losing skein.
Today, Palmyra is 13-10 and moving on to the official opening round of the District Three Class AAA tournament, Tuesday at 7 p.m. at 20-3 and fourth-seeded Donegal.
The Spartans concluded their campagin at 13-10.
“I was responsible for 20 of those losses,” said Palmyra’s third-year head coach Pete Conrad. “It seems like a long time ago because they (his players) have grown so much, matured so much since then. All the guys you saw tonight – eight of the nine – were part of that.
“It’s an achievement when you see where we came from,” Conrad continued. “It’s a stepping stone. We hope it’s the beginning of a journey, not a destination.”
Once the Cougars established a little working margin for themselves, not only didn’t they give it up, they expanded upon it. Palmyra did an admirable job of attacking Milton Hershey’s pressure defense, playing comfortably in the quick tempo and making good decisions with the basketball.
Palmyra also did a good job of looking for and finding the hot hand, in this instance, junior sniper Logan Stovall. With Stovall netting 19 of his game-high 22 points in the first half, the Cougars tallied the last two points of the opening period, on a pair of Brandon Petrouskie free throws, and the initial basket of the second quarter, on an inside maneuver by Stovall, to establish a 14-9 lead.
“He was focused before the game,” said Conrad of Stovall. “I said to our coaching staff, ‘It looks like Logan is really locked in.’ He was aggressive and not passive. Sometimes he can be unselfish to a fault.
“Tonight he was at the top of his game,” Conrad added.
While holding the Spartans without a point for a 2:30 span of the second period, the Cougars opened a 25-15 advantage on a conventional three-point play from Stovall. Later a trey by Adam Newhard gave Palmyra a 33-23 lead.
“We talked about what we wanted to do,” said Conrad. “That’s (fast) how they (the Spartans) want to play. We knew we would get some easy shots. We tried not to pull it out (after breaking the press).
“One of the really key things is you’ve got to know and trust your teammates,” added Conrad. “And hopefully be strong with the ball.”
Stovall cooled down considerably in the second half, especially after picking up his third foul with 5:23 left in the third period. But his teammates had his back.
Senior Dan Rusling complemented Stovall nicely with 18 points, reserve big man Petrouskie banged inside for 13 points and Newhard contributed a trio of treys and 11 points.
“I can’t say enough good things about how Brandon scored the basketball,” said Conrad. “We also got a nice contribution from Shaun Robinson off the bench. Just our depth in general. We had contributions from everywhere.”
Palmyra settled the outcome in the third period. The Cougars closed the stanza with a 13-3 burst that pushed their bulge to 53-38.
Then Palmyra proceeded to tally the first 10 points of the final quarter to make it a 25-point lead.
“It’s got to be right up there with our best games of the year,” said Conrad. “By stepping outside of the Keystone (Division of the Mid-Penn Conference) we realized it is a grind, it is a struggle. To get a win against a program which we have so much respect for makes it special. It’s right up there in the big picture.
“That week off gave us a chance to come back strong,” Conrad concluded. “Now we feel pretty good about ourselves.”