Palmyra’s Maria Tukis tries to get a handle on the basketball while being defended by Lower Dauphin’s Madison O’Neill on Monday night in
Palmyra's Maria Tukis tries to get a handle on the basketball while being defended by Lower Dauphin's Madison O'Neill on Monday night in Hummelstown. The Cougars improved to 37-1 during the last two seasons with a sound victory over the Falcons. (Earl Brightbill — Lebanon Daily News)

HUMMELSTOWN - The Palmyra girls' basketball team made some mistakes Monday night, and in the process identified some areas of its game that are in need of improvement.

Although anyone who only saw the Cougars' second-quarter performance in Monday's early-season showdown with Lower Dauphin would undoubtedly find the above declaration to be incredibly ludicrous.

Unbeaten Palmyra didn't turn in four full quarters of stellar play in the Mid-Penn Keystone Division clash, but it didn't need to after shredding LD's notoriously stingy defense for 25 second-quarter points on the way to a not-that-close 49-37 victory at Lower Dauphin High School.

Now 8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Keystone and winners of 37 of its last 38 games dating back to last season's 29-1, championship-filled campaign, the Cougars appeared headed for a typically plodding low-scoring affair with its arch-rival after the first quarter ended with LD up 8-6.

But Palmyra exploded from there behind 10 of junior forward Kristen Smoluk's game-high 18 points en route to grabbing a commanding 31-14 halftime lead and rendering its uneven second-half play irrelevant.

"We just got hot in that second quarter, made some plays and got some separation," Palmyra coach Ron Berman explained of the decisive eight-minute stretch. "I said to my staff at halftime, 'What's the score, 31?' I said, 'We've won games up here with 31 points (total).' Just a great second quarter."


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The quarter, and the game, turned on an extremely rare five-point possession the Cougars enjoyed that increased a still uncomfortable 15-10 lead with three minutes-plus gone in the quarter to a permanent double-digit advantage.

Smoluk began the trip with a corner 3-pointer with the help of a screen set by Katy McClellan, who was fouled by an LD defender on the play.

That sent McClellan to the line for a 1-and-1, and the junior forward hit both ends to make it a 20-10 game and destroy any hopes the Falcons (5-3, 4-2 Keystone) had of remaining competitive.

"Probably the turning point of the game was the five-point play, when we pushed (on the screen) and they counted the '3'," LD coach Bob Heusser said. "I don't know how that's possible, but it happened and we never recovered from that."

"Obviously that five-point play was huge for separation," Berman agreed. "LD plays great defense, but they're not a great offensive team. If you get a lead on them, it's pretty hard for them to come back. It's a lot easier coaching with a double-digit lead than hanging on."

The Cougars’ Josie Stovall lets go of a shot in front of the Falcons’ Stacy Roman.
The Cougars' Josie Stovall lets go of a shot in front of the Falcons' Stacy Roman. (Earl Brightbill — Lebanon Daily News)

Palmyra was also superb defensively in the second quarter, forcing many of LD's 16 first-half turnovers while running off 19 straight points at one dominating juncture.

Defensive stalwarts Maria Tukis and McClellan were in the middle of that, while sophomore Josie Stovall supplemented Smoluk's 18 points and three 3-pointers with a strong 13-point effort.

The thoroughness of Palmyra's victory was made even more impressive by the fact that it came with go-to senior forward Carly Richardson managing just three points before being sidelined with a hamstring injury in the fourth.

"They're really good," Heusser said of the Cougars. "Defensively, they're outstanding and offensively they can drive it and shoot it. You've got to play a very solid game to compete with them."

Lower Dauphin, led by 12 points off the bench from Alex Leader, played a generally solid second half to make the final score respectable. But not solid enough to make Palmyra look vulnerable to future Keystone opponents.

It's still early, but knocking the Cougars off their Keystone pedestal, or knocking them off at all, figures to be a gigantic challenge for the rest of the division.

"The kids showed me a lot of guts," Berman said of winning so impressively on LD's home floor. "They like to win. This is a great win. Anytime you win up here, it's a great win. I'm very happy.

"Our kids, they come to play and compete every night. I don't think we're nearly as good as we were last year at this point, but I think the potential is there."

Carly Richardson eyes up a jump shot Monday at Lower Dauphin.
Carly Richardson eyes up a jump shot Monday at Lower Dauphin. (Earl Brightbill — Lebanon Daily News)

Certainly the Cougars' second-quarter performance on Monday is evidence of that.