Palmyra s Kait Carmo floats a shot toward the basket during the Cougars  opening-round matchup with Lebanon in the Northern Lebanon Lady Vikings Tip-Off
Palmyra s Kait Carmo floats a shot toward the basket during the Cougars opening-round matchup with Lebanon in the Northern Lebanon Lady Vikings Tip-Off Tournament on Friday night. With 11 points, Carmo was one of four Palmyra players in double figures in a lopsided 59-19 win that sent the Cougars into tonight s championship game opposite Pine Grove. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS GLEN GRAY)
FREDERICKSBURG - A basketball team never looks worse than when its shots simply won't fall.

Doesn't matter what else is going on out on the floor, if the ball's not going in the hoop on a semi-regular basis the struggling squad ends up looking as if it's never seen a basketball before.

That's kind of how it went for the Lebanon and Northern Lebanon girls' basketball teams on Friday night in the opening round of NL's Lady Viking Tip-off Tournament.

You can blame Palmyra and Pine Grove for that.

With stifling, smothering, suffocating - pick your favorite adjective - defensive efforts, the Cougars and Cardinals made Lebanon and Northern Lebanon look far worse than either actually is with lopsided opening-round triumphs.

Palmyra pressured Lebanon all over the floor from the opening tap to the final buzzer en route to a thorough 59-19 drubbing in the opener, before Pine Grove put on its own defensive clinic on the way to demoralizing the host Vikings by a 47-33 count in the nightcap.

Those outcomes mean Palmyra and Pine Grove will face off at 7 p.m. tonight for the NL tip-off crown, while the Cedars and Vikes will meet in the 5:30 p.m. consolation game.

It also means open shots and easy baskets will probably be hard to come by in what should be a hotly-contested championship game.

"I was really pleased with the defensive play all night," said Palmyra boss Ron Berman, who also saw four of his players hit double figures led by Carly Richardson's game-high 16 points.


Advertisement

"We're a little more mature and experienced, and I thought if we could pressure without fouling they were gonna have a lot of problems, and have to go with a lot of one-on-ones. Which they did, they made some one-on-one plays. But I thought we totally took them out of what they wanted to do."

It was much the same in the Pine Grove-Northern Lebanon game. With rangy 5-foot-9 senior guard Steffi Sampson hounding Vikings' catalyst Emily Brandt all over the floor and disrupting any hoped-for offensive flow by the home team, the defending District 11 Class AA champs easily overcame some offensive woes of their own.

After leading just 10-8 after the opening quarter and 14-12 at the half, the Cardinals outscored the Vikings 33-21 in the second half en route to their own title-game berth.

"The defense has been our calling card," said Pine Grove coach Chris George. "This is the third year we've used it as a ticket to our success. I don't even wanna know what our (shooting) percentage was in the first half, but I just kept telling the girls we were gonna hit shots. Defense is where it's at, and they executed the game plan well."

There was actually some decent offense played at times on Friday, too. The majority of it came from the Cougars, who turned a slew of Lebanon turnovers into a 19-6 first-quarter lead that only grew as the contest went on.

Lebanon s Madison Rakow is pressured Palmyra s Kathryn McClellan on Friday night in the opening round of the Northern Lebanon tip-off tourney. The Cougars
Lebanon s Madison Rakow is pressured Palmyra s Kathryn McClellan on Friday night in the opening round of the Northern Lebanon tip-off tourney. The Cougars used a smothering defensive effort as the catalyst for a 59-19 win. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS GLEN GRAY)

Richardson, a junior forward and three-year starter, and promising sophomore Kathryn McClellan (10 points) set the tone with seven points apiece in the first eight minutes, while senior Kait Carmo and sophomore Maria Tukis handled the middle portion of the game en route to posting 11 points apiece.

In all, seven different Cougars found their way into the scoring column in what was an encouraging and balanced offensive performance. But it was the total team effort when the Cedars, who were led by Brittany Ulrich's eight points, had the ball that pleased Berman the most.

"Our program is built on defense," said Berman, who has turned the Cougars into a perennial postseason force since taking over the program in 2000. "All but two of our kids played a fall sport, so the bottom line is we gotta do it (defensively) because skill-wise offensively we're just not as good as we need to be."

After watching his club struggle mightily on Friday, Northern Lebanon coach Ken Battistelli would love to have Berman's problems.

Though it was very much in the game until Pine Grove started to roll in the third quarter behind a 17-point night from superb junior point Becky Evans, Battistelli's crew never resembled the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three title contender it is expected to be.

"It wasn't good," Battistelli said with a shrug after watching the Cardinals hold Brandt to 10 points and totally bottle up the rest of his team. "We didn't execute the way that we practiced. We didn't play offense or defense the way that we practiced. I'm really hopeful it was just opening-day jitters. The emotions, or whatever, can get you sometimes."

"I thought we were gassed after the first three minutes, and we really are in good shape. But when your anxiety and nerve levels go through the roof, that happens sometimes. We'll find out if we're ready to bounce back and play the way we play."

And if Palmyra and Pine Grove play the way that they've been known to play in tonight's title game, well, buckle up.

"I was excited to get into a tournament like this," George said. "You don't see those kind of matchups early in the season. It should be a lot of fun. Hopefully we play well and represent the district fairly well."

"I'm anxious to see Pine Grove," Berman said, before knowing the identity of the Cougars' title game opponent. "I saw 'em last year, they're well-coached, they do a lot of great things. I think it'll be a fun game for us. We'll see. We'll come in and show up."