Highlights from the Cougars 58-42 win over Hershey Friday. Matt Catrillo/GameTimePA.com
PALMYRA – Every single player making up the Palmyra boys basketball team knew they had the talent to be a dangerous team.
All that was missing was getting a couple of guys coming over from other successful varsity programs some experience on the basketball court - then put it all together with the guys that have been there.
One advantage they have is they’ve been playing ball with each other since middle school.
And it’s quickly come together in carrying an eight-game win streak into a matchup against its arch rival Hershey on Friday.
With each piece focused on doing its part, the Cougars are rolling, and stayed hot, picking up a 58-42 win over the Trojans (6-4, 4-2) at Palmyra High School, upping their win streak to nine.
One of those players leading the way this year, Bryant Willis, led all scorers with a career-high 29 points, including six 3’s.
Willis said, “Hershey’s a great squad and coach (Pete) Conrad really prepared us for them, so we just tried to execute in every possible way on both sides of the floor. My teammates found me the ball, and they did a great job moving the ball. I can shoot the 3, but I can go to the paint as well. They just did a great job finding me.”
For Willis and the rest of his teammates – or best buds – a run like this actually comes as no surprise, since it has been what they’ve been dreaming about while growing up together.
“We’ve been playing with each other since fifth grade,” Willis said. “We’ve been waiting for this moment since we were little pee wees just playing pickup in the backyard. We’ve always wanted to win and dominate as a whole, and we’ve always done that since we were little kids.”
But in the midst of seeing a group of close teammates playing together and enjoying a run like this, Conrad sees something deeper in his team.
“What I see is these guys really challenging themselves all the time,” Conrad said. “I think every coach has had some teams were they’re really satisfied when they play a good quarter or half, and these guys have tried challenging themselves every practice, every quarter, every half to get better. That’s what we’re really all about. I’m proud of them for that.”
And on the court, balanced scoring has certainly been a huge factor in the start for Palmyra 11-1 (5-1 Mid Penn).
Conrad said, “Certainly Isaac (Blatt) been, more than anybody else, the constant. You saw how dangerous Bryant can be, and (Braden) Vernet and (Sam) Sheils have added timely scoring. It’s a strength we necessarily didn’t have at this time last year.”
Blatt was the other Cougar in double figures with 11 points.
Notable success can sometimes bring a sense of overconfidence – but you won’t find that with this squad.
Willis said, “He’s a person that if we get too big on ourselves, he’ll yell at us, saying, ‘Everyone’s out to get you.’ To be where we are now, it's because of him and my teammates.”
But the Palmyra coach says it’s more of his team’s determination.
Conrad said, “I certainly appreciate Bryant saying that and obviously there’s something intrinsic in these guys that they don’t feel that way, too. I do tell these guys from time to time that I’ve got an awful lot of mileage out of wondering whether me personally or my team is good enough, as opposed to thinking we’re good enough. I really don’t think it’s about me, I think it’s about something inside of them and as a collective. It’s a lot easier when you have nine or 10 teammates pushing you toward excellence.”
In addition to trying to keep their foot on the gas pedal, now the conversation of, “How far can this team go?” begins.
But the Cougars are just trying to stay the course.
“Yeah I think we can (be that team), but I’ll be honest … I haven’t thought about that much,” Conrad said. “We’re really trying to be in the process and in the moment. We’ll worry about those opportunities when they come.”
Palmyra’s next test comes Saturday on the stage of LVC's Sorrentino Gymnasium, when the Cougars face Lebanon in an 8 p.m. tip as part of the eighth annual Rhoades Classic.