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PALMYRA - For a pair of storied girls’ basketball programs looking to maintain their level of success, an early season non-league matchup is simply too good to pass up.

And considering Palmyra’s 45-41 win over Hempfield on Wednesday night was the latter end of a back-to-back, things seem to be shaping up well for the Cougars as the season-long grind gets underway.

Seemingly in control throughout much of the game, the young but savvy Cougars (3-1) saw their nine-point lead evaporate during a high-pressure fourth quarter from the gritty Black Knights (1-2).

But with the score knotted, 41-41, sophomore point guard Amelia Baldo drove past her Knights’ counterpart, Trinity Sumrall, and dropped in the game-winning layup, before freshman Annabelle Copeland sank a pair of free throws to seal the gut-check victory.

“I think we were forcing it so much, but then our spacing and our timing worked,” Palmyra coach Mary Manlove said of her team’s fourth-quarter execution. “When you have young kids, you get nerves. We don’t run a whole lot, so there isn’t very much to do except fundamental basketball. Move the ball, triple threat, do the little things.”

A hot start from both Olivia Richardson (14 points) and Hannah McLucas (11 points, three 3-pointers) carried the Cougars into halftime with a six-point lead. From there, it was strong defense that helped that lead balloon to nine points, 39-30, entering the fourth quarter.

Hempfield, however, pulled out a game-tying run with the help of a full-court defense, eventually knotting the score at 41-all with 1:20 remaining on a layup from freshman Lindsey Durkota (8 points, 9 rebounds).

Armed with the confidence on playing on their home court for the first time this season, the Cougars prevailed.

“Going up against really tough opponents in the beginning can help us later in the season,” said Richardson, crediting Baldo with handling Hempfield’s fourth-quarter pressure. “It just gives us a really good boost of confidence.”

Good teams seem to thrive in tough, early season matchups in part because of confidence. Yet the reason strong programs schedule tough non-league opponents is to accrue even more as the season goes along.

“Hempfield is good; they’re fundamentally sound," Manlove said. "They’re defensive-minded, they run their sets efficiently, so I’m always nervous about Hempfield. If we played again, I’d still be nervous about Hempfield. Nothing about that game felt comfortable for me as a coach and for them as players.

“I’m pleased with coming off Mechanicsburg, Northern Lebanon … these are really difficult opponents. I’m happy to see that they (the players) are having some success and figuring out how to play with each other and play with the system. I’m happy with how they’re responding.”

Credit, too, the veteran play from Hayley Schultz (7 points, 4 rebounds) and Jordyn Garcia (6 rebounds) for helping to offset Hempfield’s scoring duo of Julianna Clark (17 points) and Sumrall (8 points).

In short, both teams made each other work for everything it got Wednesday.

“That’s our goal,” Richardson said. “Trying to make every game really tough.”

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