Intensity is written all over the face of Palmyra s Katy McClellan as she defends against Lower Dauphin s Taryn Messick on Wednesday night. Palmyra held LD
Intensity is written all over the face of Palmyra s Katy McClellan as she defends against Lower Dauphin s Taryn Messick on Wednesday night. Palmyra held LD to just eight first-half points in a 49-34 victory. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
PALMYRA - The Palmyra girls' basketball team has turned in some ugly performances against archrival Lower Dauphin over the years.

Sometimes, even in wins. The teams' familiarity with each other and LD's traditionally deliberate halfcourt style and gritty defensive work have combined to produce some extremely low-scoring, tough-to-watch encounters.

So when the Cougars walked into their locker room with a 17-point halftime lead on the heels of an 18-point second-quarter outburst on Wednesday night... Well, let's just say it was unfamiliar territory.

"Not one of these kids and not one coach, and I've been here 13 years, has ever had a 17-point halftime lead on LD," said Palmyra's veteran head coach Ron Berman. "It was like, 'Is this for real?'"

Oh, it was. And perhaps that halftime margin shouldn't have been all that surprising, given the way Palmyra has performed to date.

The Cougars began 2013 in much the same fashion that they ended 2012, remaining unbeaten by routing traditional thorn-in-the-side LD 49-34 in a Mid-Penn Keystone Division clash at Palmyra Area High School.

The outcome of its first contest of the new year, which wasn't really a contest at all after an 18-4 burst through the second quarter turned a modest 7-4 lead into a commanding 25-8 halftime advantage, left Palmyra 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the Keystone.

Lower Dauphin, meanwhile, fell to 5-5 overall and 3-3 in the division.


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And it likely spent its halftime break Wednesday looking for the license plate number of the truck that ran it over.

It wouldn't have been time well spent, though. The cause of it all wasn't a large, fast-moving vehicle, but rather seven highly versatile, extremely committed players who seem to sense they're on the verge of something special.

"I think we're just getting all those puzzle pieces together," said senior combo guard Kait Carmo, who led all scorers with 15 points. "LD's really tough and we have a lot of history with them, but we're really well-coached, we play defense, and we have fun out there."

The Cougars certainly had a lot of fun in the decisive second quarter, which was led by three 3-point bombs from junior forward Carly Richardson, who backed up Carmo with 13 points.

But it appeared that another traditional low-scoring scrap between the two rivals was in the works after a choppy opening quarter ended with Palmyra up 7-4.

And then Richardson drained a pair of 3s to open the period, knocking LD back on its heels, and then completely on its back after Palmyra turned up the heat on its fullcourt pressure defense with the help of off-the-bench sparks from Maria Tukis and Katie Dembrowski.

Palmyra s Kristen Smoluk looks for room to operate against Lower Dauphin s Maggie Mostoller in a Mid-Penn Keystone Division battle on Wednesday night at
Palmyra s Kristen Smoluk looks for room to operate against Lower Dauphin s Maggie Mostoller in a Mid-Penn Keystone Division battle on Wednesday night at Palmyra Area High School. The Cougars enjoyed a surprisingly lopsided win against its archrival, using an 18-4 second-quarter run as the catalyst for a 49-34 victory. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)

The defensive energy wasn't confined to just Tukis and Dembrowski, though. Katy McClellan, Gabi Gundermann, Kristen Smoluk, Tukis and Richardson were everywhere, too, in the second quarter. To the point that LD must have felt like all seven Cougars were on the court at once while its deficit was growing to 25-8 at the half.

"When we bring in Katie Dembrowksi and Maria Tukis, we get better defensively," Berman said. "We're normally not as good offensively, but we get better defensively. We started making some plays, we turned them over a few times, and hit a few shots. It mushrooms when you're making some plays; your confidence goes up and they get a little tentative."

"We just really got our tempo up," Carmo said of the second quarter. "We got on a roll and we just had each other's backs."

Inevitably, the roll slowed a bit in the third quarter. It was a 29-10 game after a Richardson bucket a little over two minutes into the third, but from there LD put together a 10-3 spurt and pulled to within 32-20 on a Maggie Mostoller (team-high nine points) drive in the waning seconds of the period.

The Cougars, however, responded in kind. And then some.

Dembrowski nailed a '3' from the right wing with one second left in the third to bump the lead back to 35-20, and McClellan, Carmo, Richardson and Smoluk combined for seven straight points to open the fourth and turn the game back into a rout at 42-20 with 5:21 left.

Another rout. Palmyra's nine wins have come by an average of almost 32 points, with a 52-41 win against Mechanicsburg on Dec. 17 serving as the only "close" game the Cougars have played thus far.

There are a lot of reasons for that, but Berman has a favorite.

"The kids expect to win every time they step on the floor," he said. "They haven't known anything but success. Almost all of them are athletes in other sports, and the girl athletes have been very impressive (at Palmyra).

"Plus we've won two straight championships in the Keystone (the Cougars shared the division crown with LD in 2010-11 and won it outright last year). They expect to win and they're willing to do what it takes to do that."