NEW CUMBERLAND — Playing in a cacophonous gymnasium made deafening by Cedar Cliff’s student section — a rare sight at a girls’ basketball game these days — the Palmyra Cougars nonetheless handled the atmosphere. They handled the physicality and matched their opponent’s intensity.
The only difference on Friday night at Cedar Cliff High School, however, was on the scoreboard, as the hometown Colts knocked off the visiting Cougars 38-24 in a battle to keep pace in the four-team race in the Mid-Penn Keystone Division.
With the win, the Colts (8-2 Keystone, 12-4 overall) moved a game ahead of the Cougars (7-3, 10-6), who fall into a second-place tie with Lower Dauphin, which fell to Bishop McDevitt on Friday night. Bishop McDevitt and Cedar Cliff remain tied atop the standings with four division games remaining.
Friday’s game was thus a microcosm of the Keystone, as simply keeping pace was the theme for Palmyra, after the Colts ran out to an 18-6 first quarter lead.
“I think that they definitely turned their intensity up from the first time we played them, so real credit to Cedar Cliff,” said Cougars’ head coach Mary Manlove, referencing a 48-43 victory over the Colts back in December.
“Cedar Cliff goes so deep; I felt there was as a swarm of just five and five (more) coming,” Manlove added. “We only play seven. I think that kind of fatigued us a little bit in the first half so our shots weren’t falling.”
While the offense never gained ground for the Cougars, the defense settled in, holding Cedar Cliff to single digits in each of the final three quarters, including just twelve points overall in the second half.
“I’m thrilled with the defensive effort because we held a team like that to 38 points when they could have dropped 60 points with the amount of turnovers they could create,” Manlove said. “I wish our shots would have fallen, but credit to Cedar Cliff for wearing us down.”
“I said we need to get it done on the defensive end first, make sure we rebound,” said the head coach of the Colts, Scott Weyant. “We’re a little deeper than (Palmyra) so we wanted to try to tire them out a little bit and I thought we did that well in the first half.”
In the opening quarter, Emily Esser (nine points) scored three-straight baskets abetted by two Cougar turnovers and a helpful dish from Rachael Reilly. Meanwhile, Maddie Sitler (10 points) and Jannelle Robinson (eight points) led the Colts in physicality and defense.
Palmyra would respond behind Olivia Richardson’s game-high 11 points — accounting for all of the Cougars’ points in the second and third quarters — and eight rebounds. A tireless effort from point guard Amelia Baldo and senior leader Hayley Schultz, not to mention no-back-down from freshman reserve Annabelle Copeland, garners mention.
“It’s loud because it’s a little gym,” Manlove said in regard to the atmosphere on the road. “I guess you don’t always have a student section like that but kids are so focused on what we ask them to do that I didn’t see them get fazed by the environment. If anything, they were fatigued by the way Cedar Cliff wore them down.”
Worn down, but the race isn’t over. The Cougars get back in the saddle Saturday versus Lebanon County rival Cedar Crest in a nonleague bout before traveling to a make-or-break contest at Bishop McDevitt on Tuesday.