PALMYRA — Every parking lot around the high school was filled with cars, the concession stand was booming throughout the game, and just about the entire Palmyra student body packed into the home gym Thursday night.
On the court, the Palmyra boys’ basketball team ensured support was not wasted. Eight different players scored baskets for the Panthers, who beat Elmwood-Murdock 53-48 in the C2-2 sub-district final to book a place in the district final.
Throughout the day, anticipation mounted within Palmyra High School, and it was reflected in the intensity of Palmyra (17-7) on the court. The Panthers flew on defense, swung the ball fast on offense and contested every loose ball they could find.
“It was a lot of fun; we had talked about it as a school that we had earned the right to host this, so let’s enjoy it,” Palmyra coach Zach Wemhoff said. Had fun with it, so did we, and it was a great environment, so hopefully we can make one (district final).”
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Conference rival Elmwood-Murdock (8-17), who made his school community proud with his district’s performance, kept Palmyra out of the district finals. The No. 4-seeded Knights knocked out Omaha Christian 49-42 on Tuesday and showed heart as they fought back from a 13-point halftime deficit in the sub-district final.
The two teams met twice in a week less than a month ago, with Palmyra narrowly winning the first contest before Elmwood-Murdock stifled the Panther offense in a 47-24 win on the 3rd. February. Both teams went to a 1-Zone 3-1 at times in order to disrupt the opposing attacks, but Palmyra did well to shake off Elmwood-Murdock’s attempts to slow the pace of the match.
“We kind of expected that (because they kind of did the same thing the first two games,” Wemhoff said. “That’s what we talked about at the start of the game, because if we wanted to get out and run, we needed to build up our defense and get tips that can lead to robberies.”
The second quarter was crucial to Palmyra’s winning effort. The Panthers held Elmwood-Murdock just one point from the free throw line and took a 24-9 halftime lead. However, the choppy second half allowed Elmwood-Murdock three-point shooters to keep their team in the game.
Reid Fletcher had five three-pointers to finish with a game-high 15 points, and Nathan Rust also had four three-pointers after the halftime break as the Knights pushed to get back into the game. Palmyra’s advantage against this run was offensive depth, as Kristofer Brekel (eight points), Andrew Waltke (nine points) and Zach Fitzpatrick (13 points) all made their usual contributions.
The Panthers’ ability to shoot from beyond the arc has defined much of their success this season, and Thursday night’s contest was no different. Alex Hatcher made a pair of three-pointers to finish with eight and Palmyra made four three-pointers in total to keep the Elmwood-Murdock defense from collapsing on the 6-foot-4 Waltke and 6-6 Brekel.
With their spot in the District Finals now secured, Palmyra will be watching other results in the state to see who their next opponent is. The Panthers’ trip to the state tournament in 2020 was the school’s first in more than 20 years, and Palmyra is now one win away from making its second trip to Lincoln in three seasons.
“They’re a confident band, and when things start to drop, it’s great fun to watch and they can be pretty electric,” Wemhoff said.
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