Palmyra s Carly Richardson secures the ball despite getting caught in a pile of Hershey players that includes Victoria Blackburn, left, Emily Bruggemeier
Palmyra s Carly Richardson secures the ball despite getting caught in a pile of Hershey players that includes Victoria Blackburn, left, Emily Bruggemeier and Gabriela Blackburn (20) during Wednesday night s Mid-Penn Keystone Division showdown in Palmyra. Richardson and the Cougars scored an impressive 53-31 win to take sole possession of first place and remain unbeaten at 12-0. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS ASHLEY WALTER)
PALMYRA - When you've spent a huge chunk of your life in gymnasiums and seen it all in high school basketball the way Ron Berman has, you tend to develop a knack for defining what your teams are all about.

Suffice it to say, Berman's got a pretty good grasp on what makes his 2012-13 Palmyra girls' basketball team tick.

"I wouldn't want to play us, let's put it that way," the Cougars' veteran boss said on Wednesday night, moments after Palmyra had routed Hershey, 53-32, in a Mid-Penn Keystone Division first-place showdown on its home floor. "You can beat us, but I wouldn't want to play us. We have weaknesses, but our kids will go down fighting. They like to compete. There's a lot of winning kids in that top seven (players) that have had success in a lot of sports. You're going to have to beat us."

Easier said than done, as Hershey can attest. The still unbeaten Cougars (12-0, 8-0 Keystone) flew out of the starting gate behind seven straight points in the first four minutes from sophomore guard Kristen Smoluk and didn't take a backward step the rest of the night on the way to a stunningly lopsided 21-point triumph.

By the way, Hershey entered the contest with a 10-1 overall record and an equally perfect 7-0 division mark. And the Trojans, with highly skilled senior guard Victoria Blackburn leading the way, came by their shiny won-loss record quite honestly.


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But on this night, they were simply no match for Palmyra, which got double-digit scoring nights from Kait Carmo (15 points), Smoluk (13) and Carly Richardson (11) and a superb team defensive effort fronted by Gabi Gundermann and Katie Dembrowski's tag-team work on Blackburn, who was held to a quiet 12 points.

In a word: Wow.

"With the importance of the game, I think our kids just peaked at the right time," Berman said. "We had a real war Monday night up at Trinity, and I said to my staff that one of two things would happen: We'd either raise our level of play, or we got beat up too bad and wouldn't quite have it.

"But we rested (on Tuesday) and they looked really fresh today. We came out and played really hard."

And really well.

Buoyed by Smoluk's opening flurry - which included a hard drive to the hoop, a 3-pointer, and a pair of free throws by the 3:38 mark of the first - the Cougars snagged a 17-10 lead by the end of the first quarter, then ran off the first five points of the second to permanently bump the lead to double digits.

A Hershey run at the lead seemed imminent for a while, but never materialized thanks to Palmyra's trademark man-to-man defense that also included fine work by Richardson on athletic Hershey forward Libby Nolan.

Palmyra s Gabi Gundermann heads up the floor between Hershey defenders Emily Bruggemeier, left, and Libby Nolan on Wednesday night during the Cougars
Palmyra s Gabi Gundermann heads up the floor between Hershey defenders Emily Bruggemeier, left, and Libby Nolan on Wednesday night during the Cougars 53-31 win at Palmyra Area High School. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS ASHLEY WALTER)

"I guess I'm pretty old-school, a dinosaur-type thing, but we're gonna open up with a press and we're gonna go man-to-man fullcourt," Berman said. "We'll do that until people beat us. That's what I've always believed in. That's what we do."

"We knew they were gonna come at us as hard as they could," defensive ace Gundermann said of the Cougars' ability to grab an early lead and then build on it and extend it. "We just kept it contained with our defense. We were waiting for them to come back the whole time, but we kept it together."

With the binding done by those adherence to those man-to-man defensive principles. Gundermann and Dembrowski had the toughest assignment, chasing the dynamic Blackburn around all night, but were more than equal to the task.

Blackburn managed just four points in the first half while Palmyra was taking control and didn't score her fifth point until there was just 1:05 left in the third. By then, Palmyra was up 37-17, and the rest of the contest was a mere formality.

"We knew their two biggest scoring threats were Victoria Blackburn and Libby Nolan," Gundermann said. "So we worked first to shut them down. But it means nothing if the other players don't shut everybody (else) down. We can't let players we know are good players have huge games against us."

"I think it gets us going to play man-to-man. You know it's your responsibility, and if you don't do it it's on you. It kinda gives you a personal reward if you play good defense. That's always great."

Palmyra's lead grew as large as 24 points in the fourth, serving to enlarge the target that already existed on its backs after its first 11 wins, which gave it the top spot in District Three Class AAA when the first batch of power rankings were released on Tuesday.

No matter, though. At this point, the Cougars are playing way too well and having far too much fun to be troubled by future challenges.

"Our team really gets along well," Gundermann said. "We play well together, and we have a lot of fun anytime we're on the basketball court or together anywhere."

Like, say, Wednesday night, for example.