But there's no question that a defeat would have left an unsightly smudge on the otherwise pretty picture that is its 2011-12 campaign.
And the Cougars played like they were very much aware of that fact Wednesday night against a deceptively good Susquehannock club in the opening round of the District Three Class AAA playoffs. In the end, that was mostly to their benefit.
Overcoming some first-round anxiousness and jitters with both a necessary display of competitive fire and an appropriate sense of urgency, top-seeded Palmyra survived a stern test from the pesky 17th-seeded Warriors, 47-35, in front of the home folks at Palmyra Area High School.
Now 21-3 after emerging unscathed from the always scary - especially for a No. 1 seed - win-or-go-home district opener, the Cougars are now headed to East Pennsboro for a 1 p.m. Saturday quarterfinal date with another formidable York County foe, No. 8 West York. The Bulldogs got by Eastern York, 74-68 in overtime, on Tuesday to set up the matchup.
The win also assures Palmyra of at least two more games this season since the Class AAA bracket will send six teams to the state tournament. It also guarantees that the Cougars, no longer carrying the weight of a possible season-ending defeat on their backs, will be a little lighter the next time they step on the court.
"This was a very scary game," Palmyra coach Ron Berman said, referring to both the stakes and the considerable challenge Susquehannock provided. "They made us work for it. I thought it was a very tough first-round draw for us. I knew we were gonna have a very tough game, it's no surprise that it went down the way it did. Fortunately, we made enough plays."
The difference ended up being the plays made by sophomore forward Carly Richardson early, those made by senior guard Chelsea Ebersole in the second half, and the consistent, game-long defensive work of junior Gabi Gundermann.
Richardson made sure the Cougars were in the thick of the fight from the get-go, dropping in nine of her 11 points in the first half by attacking the basket and the offensive glass with ferocity.
Ebersole did her part by firing in 11 of her game-high 13 points after intermission, including three gigantic second-half 3-point buckets, while Gundermann badgered Warriors go-to girl Shannon Druck into a tough shooting night that netted just nine quiet points.
"Carly made some great plays there and really got us off to a good start," Berman said. "We needed someone to do that."
Nine combined points off the bench from Kait Carmo and Kristen Smoluk also aided the cause, as did defensive stopper Callie Good, who held point guard Makenzie Fancher to two second-half points after Fancher went off for 10 before the break.
"We were a little shaky in the beginning," said Ebersole, the lone senior in Palmyra's top eight rotation. "But once we started playing them and knew how they played and what they did, we came together and knew what we had to do better to win the game."
One thing the Cougars had to do to survive was play with more composure than they did the last time out in a Mid-Penn semifinal loss to Gettysburg in which they blew a 12-point second-half lead.
Mission accomplished, save for some spurts of sloppiness with the ball in the second half.
After Katie Wagner (10 points) tied the contest at 12 early in the second quarter on the heels of the Cougars eking out a 10-8 lead after the first eight minutes, Palmyra responded with a driving layup from Maddie Good, a Gundermann bucket off a long Good pass, and a "3" from Carmo to go up 19-12 and ultimately take a 20-14 lead into intermission.
Then, after a Druck steal had the Warriors within 22-18 early in the third quarter, Ebersole drained the first of her three treys to ignite a 12-3 run that put Palmyra up 34-21 midway through the period and in control for good.
"I knew that something definitely had to be done," Ebersole said of sparking the decisive run. "We needed to get that lead and not let them come back. I tried to get people open, I tried to get myself open.
"We had to get this game or I was done playing high school basketball. I love these girls, and I love the coaches. I'm not ready to be done yet."
If the Cougars had met their end Wednesday, they would not have been able to join the resurgent Palmyra boys' basketball team in the district quarterfinals, something that added another layer of pressure to the contest. And heightened the sense of accomplishment that followed the win.
"It's really great, but the boys are doing fantastic and it's kinda like, 'Now it's your turn," Berman said. "I think the girls felt that, because I heard them talking before the game about, 'We gotta keep going it, too.' You don't really need any extra (pressure) at this point, you know it's the last game of the season if you lose. There's enough pressure built up playing that type of game. Now we know we've got at least two more games and two more quality games."