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Palmyra girls play into tie for first with win

PALMYRA — By the numbers, the Palmyra girls’ basketball team is always one to reckon with in the Mid-Penn Keystone.

All numbers aside, however, when head coach Mary Manlove has her team focusing on each game separate from the whole, the Lady Cougars are especially lethal.

Buoyed by tremendous defense and hot shooting from both the 3-point arc and free-throw line, the Lady Cougars upended rival Lower Dauphin 44-31 Tuesday night.

The win breaks a deadlock atop the Keystone Division between Palmyra (9-4 overall, 6-1 Keystone), Lower Dauphin (8-4, 5-2), and Cedar Cliff — whose lone Keystone loss came to the Cougars last week — at the midpoint of conference play.

But the talk of rivalries and place-standings is all mostly meaningless to Manlove and her players.

“We didn’t treat it (this game) as a rivalry at all. I tried to take that out as much as possible,” Manlove said afterward. “It’s just another game, you still have seven or eight more. We tried to downplay that.”

As a result, the Lady Cougars could focus on simply running the offense, playing tough defense, and crashing the glass, en route to out rebounding Lower Dauphin 34-28 for the game.

“We just wanted to relax and stay poised,” said point guard Amelia Baldo, who chipped-in a game-high 12 points. “Try not to kill them in the first quarter (because) it was going to be a chess match, as coach said, and we just had to take it one play at a time.”

Baldo and her teammates indeed took it possession-by-possession in the opening half, struggling to crack the Falcons’ defense. But Palmyra hit five first half threes, two each from Hayley Schultz and Olivia Richardson, to go up 16-11 at halftime.

“We just said take any good shot because if you get an open look against Lower Dauphin, that’s awesome,” Manlove said. “Their defense is incredible so we just tried to simplify what we did tonight, take what they give you.”

Palmyra kept taking threes and the shots kept falling, finishing 8-for-13 from beyond the arc before sinking 13-of-19 free-throws in the final quarter.

That number includes Baldo’s first two 3-pointers of the season and a 4-for-6 showing from the line in the fourth.

“My parents always tell me and my coaches tell me, 'If it’s open you gotta take it',” said Baldo, who admitted to being under the weather coming in but credited a quick afternoon nap and the play of her teammates on the win.

“I definitely think this is the best game we’ve played as a team all season,” she said. “Everybody was diving on the floor, making big shots, and rebounding.”

For Palmyra, Schultz finished with three treys while Richardson finished a rebound shy of a double-double with 10 points and 9 boards. Freshman Lauren Wadas had five rebounds in the first half and sank 3-of-4 free throws, as did junior Hannah McLucas.

“They were just really focused on what we asked them to do,” Manlove said. “They’ve been holding each other accountable in practice which has been a maturing process. We said that we were thrilled with our three consecutive losses (in December) because that tough patch helped us out tonight to feel comfortable.”

Leading to a certain comfort level heading into the second half of conference play, right?

“The second half of the season is just next night,” Manlove offered. “We’re happy when we get a win.”