Palmyra s Carly Richardson measures a jumper as Elco s Victoria Sweatlock closes in during Thursday night s girls basketball game in Myerstown. The Cougars clawed out a 64-29 victory over the Raiders behind Richardson s game-high 27 points. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
MYERSTOWN - It was bound to happen.

Sooner rather than later, some team was going to come out with fire in its eyes and conviction in its heart and make the Palmyra girls' basketball team prove it can handle itself in a good old-fashioned scrap.

It didn't happen in the Cougars' first three games - lopsided victories by margins of 40, 27, and 41 points.

But, despite significant scoreboard evidence to the contrary, it did happen last night. Honest.

Clearly not wishing to be the latest Cougar opponent to get run over right from the start, Elco jumped in Palmyra's face for the better part of the first half on Thursday night, playing with pride, aggressiveness and physicality.

The result was a hotly-contested first half that unbeaten Palmyra led by a mere three points with less than four minutes to go before intermission.

The end result of the Cougars' response to the Raiders' fierce challenge? How about Palmyra 64, Elco 29?

The next trick, it seems, would be for an opponent to engage Palmyra in a four-quarter battle that goes down to the wire. Good luck with that.

"Where do you start?" Elco coach Ashli Shay said when asked to discuss the problems Palmyra presents to opponents. "They're athletic, every one of them can shoot, they can all rebound, they all play defense hard. Honestly, I was making my scouting report to give to the girls - I do strengths and weaknesses - and I couldn't find one. I couldn't find a weakness. They're just good."

The Cougars certainly were good on Thursday, particularly when the going got a little tough, as it did after the Raiders recovered from an early 9-1 deficit to pull to within 22-19 on a Sydnie Parker putback with 3:41 left in the first half.

But from there, the Cougars put on nothing short of a clinic. With a 3-pointer from junior forward Carly Richardson - who was simply sensational while erupting for 27 points - roughly 15 seconds later serving as the spark, Palmyra outscored its host 42-10 the rest of the way on the way to a deceivingly lopsided blowout win.

Elco’s Kady Yoders drives to the hoop against Palmyra’s Katie Dembrowski (10) and Maria Tukis (11) in Thursday s non-league girl s basketball
Elco's Kady Yoders drives to the hoop against Palmyra's Katie Dembrowski (10) and Maria Tukis (11) in Thursday s non-league girl s basketball game. Yoders and Cheyenne Hassler both had eight for the Raiders, who lost 64-29 to the Cougars. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)

There were all sorts of reasons for it - Richardson's brilliant play, a 12-point third quarter from sophomore wing Kristen Smoluk, superb ball movement and team defense, and strong complementary play from the rest of the quality interchangeable parts- Katy McClellan, Kait Carmo, Maria Tukis, Gabi Gundermann and Katie Dembrowski.

But mostly, it was just about rising to the challenge the Raiders produced, which was led by Kady Yoders' eight points and furious overall intensity.

"This was a good test for us," Palmyra coach Ron Berman said. "Elco's a very nice team. They're very much improved. I thought this was the first team we played that, athletically, was close to matching up to us.

"I knew it would be a good test coming down here.

Palmyra’s Kait Carmo hits the floor as Elco’s Halie Parker, left, and Celeste Shimp, right, battle her for a loose ball on Thursday night in
Palmyra's Kait Carmo hits the floor as Elco's Halie Parker, left, and Celeste Shimp, right, battle her for a loose ball on Thursday night in Myerstown. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
We lost down here two years ago, 48-46. And the way the game started, I thought, 'Here we go again.'"

Berman needn't have worried. Richardson's '3' and four combined free throws from McClellan and Tukis gave Palmyra a 29-19 lead at the half, and Smoluk's outburst in the third helped provide a comfortable 49-27 cushion heading into the final quarter.

"In many ways this was as tough of a game as we've had," Berman said. "I'm very impressed with how Elco played and how hard they played. We're just a little bit (more) offensively skilled than they are."

But, much to Shay's delight, intensity and desire was pretty much a dead heat on Thursday.

Palmyra’s Kristen Smoluk goes strong against Elco’s Hayley Witmer during the Cougars win on Thursday.
Palmyra's Kristen Smoluk goes strong against Elco's Hayley Witmer during the Cougars win on Thursday. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)

"It was a great effort, I don't think the effort was reflected in the score," said Shay, whose squad dropped to 1-2 heading into the opening of Lancaster-Lebanon League play at Pequea Valley tonight. "The second half, towards the end, we got sloppy and things started to fall apart a little bit. At that point the game was what it was.

"But I'm not dejected or anything like that. I couldn't have asked for a better effort, especially in that first half. That's a great team that we played. They're gonna win a lot of games this year and make a lot of noise in the playoffs."

Notes: Boosted by her big third quarter, Smoluk finished with 15 points to join Richardson in double figures, and also contributed to holding Elco's perimeter sniper, junior Cheyenne Hassler, to eight points...Palmyra was also superb at the foul line, hitting 16 of 20 attempts. Elco made just five trips to the line, all by Yoders, who hit two of those attempts.

GIRLS
NON-LEAGUE
PALMYRA 64, ELCO 29
PALMYRA (64)
Dembrowski 1 0-0 2, Tukis 1 3-6 5, Carmo 2 2-2 7, Smoluk 5 5-6 15, Gundermann 0 0-0 0, Richardson 10 4-4 27, McClellan 3 2-2 8, Langley 0 0-0 0, McNamara 0 0-0 0, Cleckner 0 0-0 0.Totals22 16-20 64 .
ELCO (29)
H. Parker 1 0-0 3, Sweatlock 2 0-0 4, Yoders 3 2-5 8, Hassler 3 0-0 8, Shimp 1 0-0 2, Gilbertson 1 0-0 2, S. Parker 1 0-0 2, Witmer 0 0-0 0, Harpold 0 0-0 0, Keller 0 0-0 0.Totals 12 2-5 29 .
Palmyra 15 14 20 15 - 64
Elco 9 10 8 2 - 29
3-point goals Palmyra 4 (Richardson 3, Carmo); Elco 3 (Hassler 2, H. Parker).
Fouled out: None
JV score Palmyra 40, Elco 29