Monday, January 22, 2018
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Cougars fend off Mounts

It wasn’t pretty, and there was a lot of starting and stopping, but Palmyra’s girls’ basketball team improved to 10-0 on Tuesday night.

Kristen Smoluk popped in a team-high 16 points, the Cougars sank 22 free throws for a large advantage from the foul line, and Palmyra remained perfect compliments of a 45-39 win over Ephrata in the championship game of the Mountaineers’ holiday tournament at Ephrata Middle School.

The teams looked even throughout most of the contest, but foul trouble began to take its toll on both squads as five players fouled out and both teams — Palmyra in particular — spent a good chunk of the evening marching to the foul line.

The Cougars went 22-for-29 from the line; the Mounts 7-for-10.

That’s a 15 points differential from the foul line, and that was the difference, as both coaches were forced to mix and match lineups in the second half.

The Mounts (6-4), who are already without injured senior Hannah Raezer (knee injury; out indefinitely), lost Kenzie Horst with 1:16 left in the third quarter — and two more in the fourth: Its other starting post, Johanna Hoffer, and point guard Kelly Liebl, who bucketed a game-high 17 points before fouling out with 2:03 left to play.

All Ephrata coach Mike Garman could do was stand and scratch his head, scanning the bench to find subs to come in and keep the game close.

“It’s pretty hard to win when you have three starters sitting on the bench,” said Ephrata coach Mike Garman. “The one that really hurt was Kenzie because I thought she was playing very well and she’s our best rebounder. It’s just one of those things that we have to work on and learn that we can’t foul and put people on the foul line.”

Palmyra took a seemingly safe 33-22 lead into the final quarter. In the final minutes, the Mounts forced six turnovers, which all resulted in points for the home team. After Kay Liebl sank two free throws, Caroline Stauffer stole the inbounds pass and went in for the layup, for the four-point swing, cutting Palmyra’s lead to seven.

Stauffer scored 10 of her 14 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer at the final buzzer.

Palmyra lost Maria Tukis and Molly Gundermann to fouls about five minutes into the fourth quarter, but the Cougars sealed the deal at the line, going 8-for-9 in the fourth quarter and 12-for-13 in the second half.

TURNING POINT: Palmyra scratched and clawed to take an 11-10 first-quarter lead, and the Mounts’ offense went cold in the second. Ephrata only scored two baskets in the period, one from Stauffer and a layup from Kelly Liebl before the buzzer that cut the lead to nine. Palmyra's 12-4 quarter helped them grab a 23-14 lead.

Gundermann splashed a 3 from the top of the key, Tukis had a bucket in the in the lane and Palmyra dropped 7-of-11 free throws in the second quarter, taking advantage of Ephrata’s foul woes.

STATS AND NOTES: Turnovers: Palmyra 14, Ephrata 13. Cougars out-rebounded the Mounts 32-29. Liebl, Stauffer and Hoffer all had six boards for Ephrata; Smoluk and Katy McClellan had six rebounds apiece for Palmyra. Palmyra had 22 free-throw attempts to Ephrata’s 12. The teams combined to take 34 shots from the foul line, but only 26 field goals (11 for Palmyra, 15 for Ephrata).

ALL-TOURNEY TEAM: Ephrata’s all-tourney team included McCaskey’s Ahnera Parker, L-S’s Tori Schultz, Ephrata’s Kelly Liebl, Palmyra’s Katy McClellan and MVP Kristen Smoluk from Palmyra.

WHAT THEY SAID: Ephrata’s Kelly Liebl on Palmyra — “We watched them play (Monday) and we knew they liked to run and they’re really good rebounders. So we knew we’d really have to pick it up on defense. I think we did that, but we fouled too much. But I thought we showed tremendous hustle on the court and we never gave up. So it was a positive experience for us; I’m not disappointed with the effort. I wish we could have won, but I was really happy with how everyone played.”

Liebl postgame — “We knew they were undefeated and we were really excited to play them and see how we matched up and see kind of where we stand in our season right now. You love playing against teams like that. I thought we rose to the occasion hustle-wise. Once we get that hustle along with being smart on the court, I think we’ll be really dangerous to play against.”

Palmyra coach Ron Berman postgame — “They matched up well with us, and the whole foul situation both ways changed the whole flow of the game. There was never a flow to this game. Fortunately we had a little bit better second quarter than they did. I thought the fouls hurt both teams, but it kept our team ahead because of free throws. That’s also the advantage of having the lead, because we forced them to foul a little bit. But it was a great effort by Ephrata, and I’m really proud of how our kids hung in there. We’re happy to get out of here with a win.”

Ephrata coach Mike Garman — “I just said I was very proud of the effort they put forth and that they were battling,” Garman said of his speech at halftime. “We’re here to compete, to win a game, and there’s no reason to take a step back against this team and they didn’t. (Palmyra is) 9-0 — they’re ranked third in the District — and they’re the real deal. We didn’t take a step back at all and we battled, even with all of the foul trouble.”