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The top 5 plays from the Cougars' 61-53 win over the Eagles in the District 3 Class 5A First Round. Matt Catrillo/GameTimePA.com

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PALMYRA – Though it was a tremendous 19-win regular season for the Palmyra boys basketball team, the Cougars weren’t exactly thrilled with their offensive productivity in their last two games.

They averaged just 44 points in those two contests, resulting in a split that contributed to keeping them from playing in the Mid-Penn Conference Tournament.

But sometimes in this long and grinding season on the court, some time off can be a good thing, especially knowing you’ll be fresh heading into the most important time of the year.

After the Cougars’ 61-53 win over Dover in the District 3 Class 5A First Round Monday at Palmyra High School, it seems as though the break paid off.

With the victory, Palmyra will host Milton Hershey Thursday in the Class 5A Quarterfinals for a 7 p.m. tip-off. The Spartans defeated Garden Spot 73-59 in their first round game Monday.

The Cougars also clinch a PIAA Tournament berth in the process.

“We were fortunate to get a win and we really battled to guard them,” said Palmyra coach Pete Conrad. “We’re pleased to move on. Anytime you play in the playoffs you’re going to be playing a good team.”

Dover meanwhile, will go to Garden Spot Thursday in the Class 5A Quarterfinals in the Ninth Place bracket.

It wasn’t a perfect offensive bounce back for Palmyra however, as eight Dover points off 10 Cougars turnovers kept the Eagles alive.

“That was definitely an issue and it’s something we’ve got to do a better job with,” Conrad said. “We’ll continue to work on that. They also had a different personnel set than some of the groups we’ve seen. But certainly, one of our priorities is taking care of the basketball.”

One factor that Conrad says could’ve played a part in some of the turnover issues is the negative that can come with a significant amount of time off – rust.

“I think maybe we did have to shake some off,” Conrad said. “Anytime you don’t play for 17 days, it’s a factor. It’s some combination of those two things. If you don’t play for an extended stretch, it’s easy to lose the groove you were in.”

Another factor the Cougars faced was trying to solve different looks from the Eagles defensively.

Conrad said, “We really thought we’d be able to get the ball inside a little bit more, and to Dover’s credit, their zones slowed us a little bit. But we’re always trying to improve in different facets of the game.”

A big night from Keith Davis also helped keep Dover in it, leading all scorers with 22 points, including four 3’s.

“It was a team effort (guarding him),” Conrad said. “We had (Braden) Vernet on him for a significant chunk in the second half, and Braden really stifled him. He’s an elite scorer, and to hold him to 22, and especially hold him down in the second half, that’s a big key to winning the game.”

With the largest lead for any team only at four heading into the fourth quarter, Palmyra took over using an 8-2 run to open its largest lead at 51-41 with 3:53 left.

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And anytime the Cougars needed something to happen offensively, Vernet was there with a big night of his own with a team-high 21 points.

“I guess I had to, but this is a great team,” Vernet said. “This is playoff basketball. It doesn’t get any better than this. The intensity level is different, and I really poured my heart out in this game.”

Vernet definitely did have some help with Isaac Blatt’s 17-point and Bryant Willis’ 14-point nights.

Now Palmyra’s attention turns to a rematch with a big rival in the district quarterfinals setting, where Vernet and his teammates know the Spartans will be looking for revenge from the Cougars’ 62-61 road win back on Dec. 17.

“I know they’re probably wanting us real bad after our close game earlier in the season,” Vernet said. “We didn’t play very well (in that game), but we were able to pull off that win. We’re excited for the challenge.”

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