Palmyra Withstands Persistent Donegal Punches, Uses Late Game Rally To Capture Donegal Tip-Off Tournament Title
Written by: Andy Herr on Sunday, December 12th, 2021
Hyperbole or not, sometimes the second night of the season can often be one of the most consequential eveings that the entire slate can possibly offer. And sure enough, the situation that was scheduled to take shape in Mount Joy late on Saturday night just so happened to fit snuggly into that very same category.
For the Donegal Indians, success on the hardwood since that infamous 2013 run through the state playoffs has been hard to come by of late save for a district tournament bid a handful of years ago. But as is the case with the promise of a new season that beckons, hope always springs eternal like the sun rising in the east as it does every morning. And boy oh boy, were the good vibes in the Indians’ camp alive and well based upon their performance on Friday night in the opening round of the Donegal Tip-off Tournament.
Against York Tech on Friday night, the Indians appeared to exercise quite a bit of demons that have seemed to beset them by evidence of their dominating 40-point triumph over the visiting Spartans, highlighted by a 30-point outburst by one of the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s (still) best kept secrets, senior forward Khalil Masden, as Donegal steamrolled their way into the championship game on their home court by virtue of their emphatic 75-35 victory over York Tech on Friday night. Suffice to say, such an impressive victory most assuredly gave the Indians nothing but wind in their collective sails as they looked forward to a date with Palmyra just 24 hours later.
Sitting on the other bench on Saturday night, this particular championship game seemed to just as valuable for the Palmyra Cougars with essentially the entirety of the regular season still left to go for them as well. Much like in the same vein as their counterparts at Donegal, the last few seasons have been somewhat of an uphill battle for the Cougars in trying to navigate their way to a postseason berth. Granted, the sledding is almost always much more arduous when trying to do while residing in the Mid-Penn Conference, something that Palmyra routinely tries to do while competing in the Mid-Penn Keystone division. But as was the case with the narrative surrounding the Cougars as well, the optimism that could come out of a 2-0 opening weekend record to start the season could prove to be worth its weight in gold should Palmyra be able to vanquish Donegal on their home floor. And speaking of ridiculously good performances that took place in the opening round on Friday night, it’d be nothing if not an extreme disservice not to acknowledge the 32-point outing of Palmyra’s Christopher Edwards, undoubtedly the underlying fuel that helped power the Cougars to an equally dominating performance in a dramatic 75-42 ousting of Penn Manor.
So, without much of a shadow of a doubt, the stakes couldn’t seem to be higher when looking at the 40,000 foot view of things for both Donegal and Palmyra heading into this championship tilt. And while the game itself lived up to all the hype and then some while taking place in an absolute caldron of a playoff-type atmosphere, it would prove to be the Palmyra Cougars who would be left standing in the ring once all was said and done.
Granted, although things couldn’t have started off much better for the visitors from Lebanon County given their bucket on their opening offensive possession of the night, the Indians responded marvelously to the early body blow leveled against them with a timely 8-0 run to follow suit, capped off by a strong take to the tin by way of 5’11 junior guard, Noah Rohrer, as the Cougars quickly found themselves on the receiving end of a Donegal counterpunch. However, much to the chagrin of the hometown fans, the Cougars would be able to claw their way back into it, thanks in large part to pretty floater in the lane sunk by senior point guard, Quinton Townsend, making it a 10-6 affair in favor of Donegal with 2:45 left in the opening period. Yet even when it appeared as if Palmyra would be able to erase the deficit down even further as the opening quarter trudged along, Donegal’s James Turbedsky simply wasn’t having anything of it as the Indians’ 6’2 sophomore forward authored a strong take inside to put the hosts back up by a touchdown at 13-6, which is precisely where things would remain once the final 30 seconds of the quarter eventually evaporated off the first quarter clock.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the key catalyst behind Donegal’s early foray with the lead came courtesy of their work on the defensive end of the floor. While playing with a tough-as-nails, determined attitude on that side of the ball, it seemed apropos to see the Indians cheating -and more often than not- being rewarded for jumping the passing lanes as Donegal came away with what seemed like countless critical deflections and steals that threw the Palmyra offense attack off kilter. Then, with their defense clearly humming along, the offense quickly followed right behind it as evidenced by a knock-down trey sunk on the initial offensive set of the second frame by 6’0 senior, Joe Turbedsky, giving the Indians their largest lead of the evening up until that point at 16-6.
That said, Palmyra only continued to hang around and hang around as the second quarter wore on, eventually cutting the Indians’ lead back down to three at 16-13 following yet another floater in the paint by Townsend, before later slicing the Donegal lead down to the slimmest of margins at 17-16 following a nice hi-lo set that ended with Cougars’ big man, Eli Becker, being the main beneficiary of said play with just two minutes left to play in the opening half of this championship bout. From there, Palmyra finally appeared to solve the riddle that was the perplexing Donegal 2-3 zone as a big time trey cashed in by way of senior guard, Gavin Bean, knotted things up at 21-21 before another bucket just moments prior to the first half horn blaring out, this one from the handiwork of versatile senior forward, Chris Edwards, gave the Cougars their first lead of the game since their opening bucket of the contest as black-clad guests trotted into the intermission with ownership of the 23-21 cushion.
In a way, it seemed as if Edwards’ aforementioned bucket proved to be a spark that ignited that Palmyra attack coming out of the break. Case in point, a pair of 3-balls knocked down by Edwards in the early stages of the third frame -the last of which ended in a rare four-point play- as the Cougars’ suddenly morphed into a relatively commanding 30-23 bulge before anyone had the chance to break a sweat. On the night, Edwards was clearly the straw that stirred the Cougars’ drink all game long as the senior big finished the evening off with an impressive 21-point outing by the time the night was through.
From there though following the Edwards’ buckets, the Cougars only kept the pedal down. In fact, the Cougars eventually saw their advantage balloon up to double digits in size and stature as an assist from Edwards to Eli Becker underneath made it a 32-23 Palmyra lead, prompting Donegal to burn a timeout to stave off some of the Cougars’ momentum with 5:55 left to play in the third. Yet while Donegal would continue to chip away at the Palmyra advantage, even getting the deficit back within eight following a triple cashed in by freshman guard, Deandre White, the Cougars by and large kept the Indians at bay throughout much of the third quarter.
However, just when they needed it most, a late flurry of buckets put together by way of the Turbedsky duo of James and Joe respectively, allowed Donegal to saunter into the final quarter with what felt like all the momentum in world despite staring up at a 39-33 gap with the fourth quarter getting set to begin.
Without question, the Donegal snowball was rolling downhill by the time the final stanza got underway. Case in point, a steal and finish thanks to the handiwork of senior forward, Khalil Masden, making it a 39-37 affair right out of the chute. Speaking of Masden, he too would once again prove to be the key cog in the Donegal attack as best evidenced by his team-high 16-point performance to pace the Indians’ over the span of 32 minutes. But when the Indians weren’t cashing in from the field, they felt just as safe and sound when placed upon the charity stripe, especially given the pair of freebies sunk by Noah Rohrer, an exchange which made things all square at 39-39, before a later offering of one each from Rohrer and White which propelled the Indians to play their first lead in quite some time at 41-39. Even still, while that slim two-point buffer may have seemed to be a little too close for comfort, the Indians would make good on upping the gap even further as yet another pair of free throws, these knocked down by Cole Hess, saw the Donegal lead swell up to 46-41 with just 3:24 left to play.
As it turned out, that proved to be more than enough time for the Cougars to pounce.
While the final Palmyra spurt of the evening seemed to start off rather innocently with a hard-nosed Chris Edwards take to the cup which sliced the Donegal lead down to 46-43, a gargantuan three-point play, this one authored by a cold-blooded freshman, Alex Dorta, knotted things back up at 46 apiece with time dwindling down. And from there, the Cougars were able to finally reach the summit in terms of taking over the lead thanks to a dead-eye trifecta dialed up by Quinton Townsend off of gorgeous ball movement around the perimeter, a timely bucket which put Palmyra back in front at 49-47 shortly thereafter.
That said, it wasn’t as if Donegal didn’t have their chances late in the game despite the haymaker lobbed in their direction. In fact, it appeared as if Palmyra had gifted the Indians two golden opportunities within the final minute as the Cougars failed to convert on the front-end of two separate one-and-one’s. Unfortunately, as far as the Indians’ contingent was concerned, both of those chances would go by the wayside as they first failed to secure a defensive rebound, keeping the ball yet again on the same end of the floor. Then, on the second go around, while they did secure the defensive board in this instance, an unfortunate tumble on the way back down to the earth resulted in a traveling violation, handing the ball back over once again to Palmyra. And at that point, the Cougars were finally able to make Donegal pay for their missed opportunities given a perfect 2-2 stretch from the free throw line in the final 18.7 seconds courtesy of the star of the show, Chris Edwards, as the Cougars were able to have a joyous bus ride back across the county line with their well-earned 51-47 victory in the finale of the Donegal Tip-off Tournament on Saturday night in what felt like a playoff game despite the calendar telling us it is not even mid-December as of yet.
NEXT UP: For Donegal, it’s a given that this one will sting for a day or so. After all, how could it not given their incredible fight and effort to hang tough with a very solid Palmyra crew before eventually surrendering a back-breaking 10-1 salvo in the final three minutes and change? However, that’s just about all the time that will allow for that given the frenetic pace of the basketball season, but particularly right out of the chute once the year gets underway within the first week or so of the season. And once the Indians do get back on the floor, it’s almost immediately right into the Section Four wars once they draw ELCO and Octorara respectively. And while it may be just one game -well, one weekend rather- it’s evident to even the naked eye that this Donegal team seems to be the best the Indians have produced in a handful of the last few years. All told, if they can make good on just a few of these late game opportunities -as they most assuredly will as the year continues- the group from Mount Joy may not only have a say in how Section Four ultimately plays out, but perhaps a big role at that.
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