Palmyra’s Maria Tukis drives to the hoop between Merion Mercy Academy’s Tina DiGiacomo (13) and Kristen Konieczny during the first half of
Palmyra's Maria Tukis drives to the hoop between Merion Mercy Academy's Tina DiGiacomo (13) and Kristen Konieczny during the first half of Wednesday's PIAA Class AAA second-round state playoff matchup at the Geigle Complex in Reading. Tukis dropped in 13 points to help the Cougars to an impressive 69-57 victory. (Jeremy Long - Lebanon Daily News)

READING - The Palmyra girls' basketball team's district title hopes ended a few weeks back because it simply couldn't make a shot in an ugly quarterfinal loss to eventual champ West Perry.

And now, the Cougars are headed to the state quarterfinals after a win in which they flat-out couldn't miss.

Basketball is a funny game, isn't it?

And pretty wonderful right now, from Palmyra's perspective.

The Cougars continued to wipe away the dismal memories of the West Perry loss on Wednesday night at the Geigle Complex in Reading, and in the process continued to breathe new life into a season that was on life support not all that long ago.

Playing with great skill and determination while turning in, under the circumstances, its most potent offensive performance of the season, Palmyra impressively handled suburban Philadelphia outfit Merion Mercy Academy, 69-57, in a PIAA Class AAA second-round clash at the Geigle.

The victory, their fourth straight and third elimination game win since the West Perry debacle, ups the Cougars' record to 24-4 and sets up a quarterfinal meeting with District Seven fourth seed Elizabeth Forward, a 55-37 winner over Mount Pleasant, on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.

You know, exactly what everyone expected when Palmyra scored a grand total of 25 points and shot a horrific 0-for-23 from 3-point territory in the loss to West Perry.

Then again, the Cougars clearly believed this could happen, even if not many others did.

"We've really been stepping up our game these last few weeks," said a beaming junior guard Maria Tukis, one of four Cougars in double figures with 13 points. "It's just really nice to see it all come together. We knew we had a lot of potential, and this game we were able to shine and show it. We were just lucky to have a game like this."

Head coach Ron Berman gives Katie Dembrowski a celebratory hug after the Cougars defeated Merion Mercy Academy, 69-57, in the second round of the PIAA
Head coach Ron Berman gives Katie Dembrowski a celebratory hug after the Cougars defeated Merion Mercy Academy, 69-57, in the second round of the PIAA Class AAA state playoffs at the Geigle Complex on Wednesday night. (Jeremy Long - Lebanon Daily News)

Luck, actually, had very little to do with it.

En route to matching the 69 points it put up on lowly Bishop McDevitt back in December, Palmyra connected on 21 field goals - four of them 3-point buckets - hit on 23 of 29 free throw attempts and had six different players tally at least eight points led by the 13-point trio of Tukis, Kristen Smoluk and Katy McClellan.

In addition, senior forward Carly Richardson managed 11 points off the bench despite still recovering from an ankle injury, while Josie Stovall added nine points and Katie Dembrowski chipped in eight big points to the ridiculously balanced effort.

"Unbelievable," said an ecstatic Palmyra head coach Ron Berman. "But we've been due for this. We've got some good shooters, we just have not played offensively the way we thought we would. That's what we've been talking about the last couple weeks, 'Let's just get better offensively.'

"It was obviously a surprise. I thought we had a great chance of winning, but I did not expect this type of game. I expected a 45-40 game, but it just did not go at all the way I anticipated."

And that was obviously a good thing for Palmyra given the rather prolific attack Merion Mercy (16-13) boasted, led by junior guard Caroline Corzel's game-high 19 points and four 3-point bombs.

Palmyra’s Josie Stovall tries to rip the ball away from Merion Mercy Academy’s Valez Jackson on Wednesday night during the Cougars’
Palmyra's Josie Stovall tries to rip the ball away from Merion Mercy Academy's Valez Jackson on Wednesday night during the Cougars' second-round state playoff win. (Jeremy Long - Lebanon Daily News)

But after the Cougars, who trailed 17-14 at the end of the first quarter, endured a scoreless stretch of 5:39 from late in the first to midway through the second quarter, it appeared the previous offensive woes had surfaced again.

And then they were gone, vanishing for good during an explosive 13-3 run during the final two minutes of the half that turned a 26-23 deficit into a 36-29 halftime lead.

McClellan, Richardson, Tukis and Smoluk all contributed points to the outburst, with Richardson's corner 3-pointer with 1:12 left in the half putting Palmyra in front for good.

"It was definitely momentum, you gotta take advantage of it," Tukis said of the end to the first half. "Buckets were dropping, and we just had to keep rolling with it. We knew our defense was lacking, but that stretch we were able to pull it together and really separate ourselves."

Smoluk then nailed a 3-pointer 1:17 into the third to push the lead to 10, and despite the best efforts of Corzel and slashing guard Valez Jackson (15 points), Merion Mercy would not get closer than eight points the rest of the way.

"After that West Perry game, they said, 'Coach, we decided we don't want it to end,'" Berman said of his team's resolve. "They beat four good teams in a row now. There has not been a weak team in this run. We stayed together and just continued working."

"We've just been wanting this so bad," Tukis said. "We knew we had something special in us, and we just worked our tails off these past few weeks. We didn't want it to end there."