Palmyra looks to regain form in state opener
It’s an unusual and unpopular spot to be in – stuck playing in consolations.
While yes, those games still give teams seeding to play for, in this case for the state playoffs, it’s still doesn’t bring the same human nature of excitement as would a normal district playoff game.
And less hype has a tendency to lead towards less focus and urgency for some teams.
The Palmyra boys basketball team found itself in this unfavorable stretch after an early quarterfinal loss to Milton Hershey Feb. 23 in the district playoffs.
While the Cougars bounced back with a 14-point win in their first consolation game, their second ended up being one of the worst performances of the year in a 46-41 loss to Greencastle-Antrim in the fifth place game.
Now that its “do-or-die” mode again as Palmyra prepares for its PIAA Class 5A First Round game with District 11 runner-up Pottsville Friday, the Cougars are starting to find themselves getting back to normal.
“Without a doubt that revs it up,” said Cougars senior Braden Vernet. “We definitely haven’t played our best the last couple of games with the consolation mode. I think you’ll see Friday that we’re definitely back in that mentality.”
But that doesn’t mean each member of the team isn’t holding themselves accountable for poor play.
Palmyra coach Pete Conrad said, “First thing is I think Greencastle’s really good and people underrate them. My hope would be that we have competitors, and I know my guys are competitors. I think that shows not only on the basketball court, but in their other sports. While I understand the element of human nature of not having urgency there, I think if you asked our guys, they hold themselves to the standard of, ‘we’re competitors, and we’re going to compete when we have the chance to.’ We didn’t do a great job of that in our last game.”
Having turned the page from the Greencastle game and now focusing on the Crimson Tide, Conrad says this week has been trying to reinforce the ways in which his team has built their success.
“We haven’t been perfect in preparing all week, not that any team would be,” he said. “I thought we had a really good response in practice (Wednesday). That was the kind of practice you need to build the habits you win with.”
And that’s certainly been the players’ mentality, especially after the Greencastle game.
“We’ve been trying to make sure we’re sharp in practices this week,” Vernet said. “If we have poor practices, it usually filters out into the game. I thought we had a good week of practice and we’ll be ready.”
Regaining its offensive rhythm is critical for Palmyra to get back on track, especially getting ready to face a somewhat familiar opponent in Pottsville, who prides itself with its defense.
“We have tremendous respect for their program,” Conrad said. “We’ve worked out with them a couple times over the years. We’ve tried to prepare for a team that’s really going to test us in how we have to attack offensively and how strong we have to be with the basketball. We also have to be committed to reversing the ball to get good looks. That’s been our big focus.”
Part two of the Cougars’ challenge is trying to contain the Crimson Tide’s 6-foot-7 junior forward Ian Renninger (10.3 ppg), along with senior guards Jordan (17.6 ppg) and Justin Abdo (8.8 ppg), who are both LVC bound next fall.
But when it comes to overall tournament success, Conrad again referred back to those habits his team looked to establish at the beginning of the season.
“I don’t think it’s a lot different,” Conrad said. “We really believe in the culture we try to establish from day one. It’s about our guys being ultra-prepared, being great teammates, and how they fearlessly compete. Those things will shape out how well we do in this tournament, just as they have in the regular season and postseason so far.”
Ironically, Vernet says he and his teammates don’t have to look too far to model how well they need to play.
“It’s the state playoffs, so it’s definitely going to be a lot more difficult,” Vernet said. “I thought we played fantastic against Milton Hershey. We just caught a tough break. I think if we play like that every game, we can make a good run.”