ELVERSON - With a new, unfamiliar head coach and a young, mostly inexperienced lineup, this season, at its beginning, had the potential to be one the Palmyra girls basketball team would be happy to see end.
Nope. The Cougars and first-year head coach Mary Manlove were fighting tooth and nail on Tuesday night to spend a lot more time together this winter.
They didn't succeed in that quest, but they did manage to paint an even brighter picture of the future than the one that already existed with their performance in Tuesday's 5A district playoff opener vs. Twin Valley.
Sophomores Amelia Baldo and Olivia Richardson and freshman Annabelle Copeland all played prominent roles as Palmyra pushed the formidable No.6 seed to the wall before reluctantly falling 50-46 at Twin Valley High School.
The Cougars grabbed a 42-41 lead on two Baldo free throws with 2:27 left, and were deadlocked at 45 after a Copeland 3-pointer with 1:25 to go, before Twin Valley (19-5) finally turned back the challenge and ended 11th-seeded Palmyra's season at 13-10.
"I would take this season in a heartbeat over any other season I've ever coached," said Manlove, who had a successful tenure at Dallastown before joining Palmyra this season. "I had so much fun with this team. They're young and they soak everything up. I'm sure this painful loss will pay off for us down the road."
It was almost a thrilling victory for Palmyra instead, one that would have catapulted it into Friday's quarterfinal round and an ahead-of-schedule state playoff berth.
In the end, the difference was Twin Valley's formidable size and skill, led by uber talented freshman wing Peyton McDaniel, who poured in a game-high 19 points and a trio of 3-point bombs, and some young mistakes by Palmyra down the stretch. Included among them was a costly turnover with 4.6 seconds left and the Cougars looking to tie with a 3-pointer.
And yet there was just as much beyond-their-years clutch play, especially by Copeland, who dropped in all 13 of her points after intermission, including a game-tying '3' with 1:25 left.
Baldo was superb after the break as well, with 9 of her 11 points and dynamic point guard, while Richardson pumped in a team-high 15, 9 of which came in the first half to put Palmyra in the thick of the fight.
"Heck of a game. Exciting," Manlove said. "I'm kind of happy that we played right with 'em. I thought some kids from Twin Valley made some big shots that were big-time playoff shots. That's what happens in playoff basketball. We had some kids that made some big shots."
But McDaniel made the biggest, a pressure-soaked 3-pointer just 13 seconds after Copeland's game-tying trey, and it put Twin Valley ahead to stay.
That, of course, ultimately led to a somber postgame locker room as the Cougars said goodbye to seniors Hayley Schultz and Jordyn Garcia, and just as reluctantly let go of a season that may well have laid the groundwork for that aforementioned attractive-looking future.
"Everybody's crying," Manlove said. "It's upsetting. It's hard, your last game is always hard. Especially when you're not ready for it to be your last game. I think we were pretty confident tonight that we could beat this team. We definitely weren't ready to say goodbye to Hayley Schultz or Jordyn Garcia."
Twin Valley 50, Palmyra 46
Baldo 3 4-6 11, Schultz 1 0-0 3, Garcia 0 0-0 0, McLucas 1 1-2 4, Richardson 5 4-4 15, Copeland 3 5-6 13, Wadas 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 13-18 46.
Twin Valley (50) Wallace 2 3-3 8, McDaniel 7 2-2 19, Knorr 6 3-6 15, Lennon 0 4-8 4, Jamison 2 0-0 4, Parlaman 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 12-19 50.
Palmyra 10 4 16 16 - 46
Twin Valley 13 6 12 19 - 50
3- pointers : P - Copeland 2, Baldo, Richardson, Schultz, McLucas