EPHRATA — Not only are age and experience the ultimate equalizer, but also they provide the inverse effect.
Tuesday afternoon in the opening rounds of their respective tournaments held at Ephrata Middle School, the Palmyra girls’ and boys’ basketball squads dealt with inverted outcomes, commensurate with their experience, but nonetheless demonstrating each teams’ potential this season.
Leading through three quarters, the Lady Cougars fell victim to foul trouble as Manheim Township came from behind for a 50-41 victory in the first game of the afternoon. But the boys’ squad followed suit with a dominant second half versus Lebanon County rival Elco, taking the boys’ opener, 68-53, after having been down by eight points at the half.
“First of all, let’s give (Elco) a lot of credit. They are a very dangerous team and they’ve played a difficult schedule,” said Palmyra boys coach Peter Conrad. “Certainly, our response was great. Bryant Willis came back and hit big threes and had big offensive rebounds and that’s one of the things we want to try and emphasize in terms of our ‘process.’ There’s going to be adversity; can you respond? I thought we did.”
Trailing 35-27 at the break, Palmyra (7-1) took its first lead on Willis’ 3-pointer with 1:39 to play left in the third as the Cougars outscored Elco 19-5 for the quarter.
Credit goes to the team’s eight seniors, and in particular Isaac Blatt (game-high 27 points) and Carl Reigle, whose shut-down defense on Elco’s Mason Bossert (23 points) in the second half provided all the momentum the Cougars would need.
“We definitely didn’t play as well as we had to and that showed on the court,” Blatt said of the first half versus the Raiders (1-6). We just had a great response in the second half.”
And once Blatt and his teammates got into the third-quarter stream, Palmyra proved too much for Elco to handle.
“I knew I could get my shot whenever I wanted to, just wanted to make sure it was in the flow of the offense and not forcing it too much,” Blatt said. “We have confidence in every single player. We get mad at each other if we don’t take shots.”
On the girls’ side, Mary Manlove’s crew proved how formidable young talent can be, while learning how important it is to have depth in order to pull out tough matchups versus likewise formidable opponents.
Leading 28-20 in the third quarter, Township would close on a 30-13 run on the heels of Megan Baldassarre’s game-high 22 points. But if not for Cougars’ sophomore Olivia Richardson fouling out with four minutes to play in the fourth, the outcome likely would have been much, much different.
“Richardson fouls out with 4:16 to go and I’m going, ‘oh my God’ with (Baldassarre) in there,” Manlove said. “She had five points in the first half and she goes off for 22. She got us.”
Meanwhile, showcasing a scoring prowess for the Lady Cougars (5-4) was freshman Annabelle Copeland (team-high 16 points), who canned four three pointers on the afternoon.
So like the boys’ squad, the talent is there for Lady Cougars. But it’s young talent. The ‘process’ for Manlove’s team will be working through the fourth-quarter kinks, which may come into play in tomorrow’s consolation matchup versus the Ephrata girls at 2 p.m.
“I’ve got to figure out how to (improve) the mental and physical stamina to continue driving when a team starts to fight back,” Manlove said, referencing the team’s “live and learn” philosophy.
That said, it’s that same philosophy that ultimately helped carry the boys’ squad to a victory Tuesday and into Wednesday’s championship contest versus Ephrata at 8 p.m.
Elco will play Oley Valley in the boys’ consolation game at 4 p.m.
“These guys have been to battle,” Conrad said of his veteran Palmyra squad. “I would say of these seniors, six of them have played important minutes in key spots. We can just kind of say hey, do this, instead of having to sit and draw it up. These guys have that wealth of experience to draw upon and that makes it easy on me.”