Palmyra s Kristen Smoluk drives to the basket past Eastern York s, from left, Elizabeth Myers, Lauren Beaver and Krissy Pennell on Saturday at Milton
Palmyra s Kristen Smoluk drives to the basket past Eastern York s, from left, Elizabeth Myers, Lauren Beaver and Krissy Pennell on Saturday at Milton Hershey. Trailing by 10 points late, the Cougars stormed back for a nine-point OT win. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
HERSHEY - Chalk one up to the indomitable spirit of a champion.

Neither Palmyra coach Ron Berman or Eastern York's Cheryl Land could easily explain the outcome of Saturday's wild District Three Class AAA girls' basketball quarterfinal that went into overtime at Milton Hershey's Spartan Center.

This much is clear. Palmyra came back to win, 72-63, after scoring the last 10 points in regulation and overcoming double-digit deficits in each half.

That, plus the fact the Cougars outscored Eastern York at the free throw line 33-6. Palmyra made 33 of 47 free throws, to just 6 of 14 for Eastern York.

So even though the Golden Knights had 10 more field goals and held Palmyra without a field goal for more than half of the second half, including just four points in the third quarter, somehow the Cougars found a way to win.

Sophomore Kristen Smoluk, who led the Cougars with 19 points, scored a three-point play with 2:15 left in regulation that cut the Knights' lead, which was 10 with 3:35 left, to 55-51.

From there, free throws played the biggest role as Palmyra made four and Eastern York missed front ends of two 1-and-1s that could have iced the game.

In overtime, Gabi Gundermann, who finished with 17 points, nailed a 3-pointer to open the scoring and Palmyra never looked back. A steady stroll to the free throw line led to a 17-8 advantage for Palmyra in OT after the teams were tied at 55 after regulation.

"All I can say about that is, we work very hard on our foul shots and very hard on not committing fouls," said Berman, whose club moved to 26-0 and into the district semifinals against Gettysburg on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the Giant Center. "Today, all that hard work came through for us."

Big time.

For Eastern York (17-8), it's on to the consolation round against Big Spring on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Cumberland Valley.

The outcome was a bitter pill for Land and her team, which jumped out to a 20-6 lead in the first six minutes of the game, then held a 47-35 edge entering the fourth quarter.

But by that time, starters Krissy Pennell and Leah Myers were both in foul trouble for Eastern York before fouling out. Pennell had a strong game with 14 points, to complement the outstanding game of senior Elizabeth Myers, who had a game-high 22. Liz Myers also had to go to the bench early after drawing two first-quarter fouls.

"We committed too many fouls," Land said.

The Cougars  Gabi Gundermann tangles with Eastern York s Lauren Beaver, right, for the ball Saturday in Hershey.
The Cougars Gabi Gundermann tangles with Eastern York s Lauren Beaver, right, for the ball Saturday in Hershey. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
"You can't send somebody to the charity stripe that many times. That's why they call it the charity stripe.

"But Coach Berman has a great team. We didn't do a good job of handling Palmyra's pressure. When we handled the pressure, we didn't execute very well."

The burning question before the game was how Palmyra would do without its leading scorer and rebounder, Carly Richardson, who suffered a sprained ankle in Wednesday's 71-43 opening-round win over East Pennsboro. Richardson was on the bench but did not dress for Eastern York.

For long periods of time in the first and third quarters, Palmyra hardly looked like the undefeated No. 1 seed in the district. Its only lead in regulation was 33-31 on a stickback by sub Allison Langley with seven seconds left in the half.

After intermission, Palmyra didn't get its first field goal of the second half until Gundermann scored with 5:56 left in the fourth quarter, while falling behind by as many as 10.

"When we fell behind, I just told the girls to fight as hard as they could and try to come back," Berman said. "I didn't want us to have to use the excuse that we didn't have Carly. If we were going to lose, we were going to lose by giving it the best effort we could."

Moving into the starting lineup in place of Richardson was sophomore Katie Dembrowski. Maria Tukis and Dembrowski had been Berman's top two subs all year, but having seen plenty of playing time, it wasn't a big stretch for Dembrowski to start.

Tukis, who ended up going to the line 21 times and making 13, became Berman's super sub and secret weapon. Her constant ballhawking kept Palmyra going when all else seemed to fail.

Without Richardson, rebounding was also a problem, which led to numerous second chances for Myers underneath. Carmo was forced to defend the Golden Knights' 5-foot-10 captain, but Carmo drew her third foul with 4:33 left in the first half and was in and out of the lineup thereafter.

Myers got off to a good start with eight points in the first four minutes to stake EY to a 10-4 lead. Pennell also had a strong first quarter, her 3-pointer giving EY a 20-6 lead with 2:48 left in the quarter.

Gundermann was then fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws, which turned out to be a harbinger of things to come.

Following an EY turnover, Tukis then found freshman Molly Gundermann on the break for a three-point play to make it 20-12. By the end of the period, Palmyra cut the lead to 22-16.

Palmyra turned the tables with a 17-9 advantage in the second period that provided its only lead of the game before overtime.

"It was an incredible game," said Liz Myers. "We knew coming in that Palmyra, the No. 1 seed, had a great team. We gave it everything we had. We didn't leave anything out on the court. We had so many players do incredible things, even our subs who came in made shots. We just committed too many fouls."