BY NICK MUDD
PressBox 790 Sports Reporter
PALMYRA — The second-seeded Palmyra Panthers hosted the semifinal of the boys Class 3 District 6 tournament by hosting the third-seeded Louisiana Bulldogs on Wednesday Night.
Palmyra held off a scrappy Bulldogs team for a 53-35 win advancing to Friday night’s championship game.
Despite the 18-point win, Panthers’ coach Ryan Wood mentioned his team did not play up to their best ability at times.
“We played timid in the first half, unlike in practice all week or even our games last week,” the Panthers’ coach said. “We cannot come out like that in the postseason. Aaron Stamper came out and got us early buckets, and our defense looks pretty good tonight, but we have some work to do before Friday.”
The Panthers came out of the gate rather sluggish compared to games earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Louisiana was looking to bring the fight to the Panthers scoring the first basket of the game on a Wyatt Harrison free throw.
The lead was short-lived as Stamper would get an open look at a three-pointer and nail it for a 3-1 lead.
The senior guard was not done there as he would score the next nine points for the Panthers — two more 3-pointers, and a layup plus a free throw from the contact.
For the Bulldogs, they would attempt to make a later first-quarter push coming from Donovan Richards. The Bulldogs’ guard tallied seven points in the first including a buzzer-beating layup to end the period.
Louisiana’s late push was enough to close the gap, as Palmyra led 14-10.
The Panthers opened the second with a layup right out of the break to increase the lead to six.
Louisiana would break the Panther’s zone with its passing and find an open Tramaine Chatman in the corner for a three.
On the Palmyra inbound after the made shot, Mason Washington came up with a steal under the basket and lay-in for two. The quick spurt forced Palmyra into taking its first timeout of the game.
The Panthers came out of the timeout by scoring an inside basket but would go cold for the next few possessions.
Even though shots were not falling for the Panthers for a stretch the defense picked up the slack.
Breaking the scoring drought for both teams was Washington inside for a layup to cut the lead to 18-17 with 2:15 to play in the half.
Alex Loman came off the bench to break Palmyra’s scoring troubles by scoring on back-to-back possessions. Loman scored on a layup in transition before hitting a corner-three for a 23-17 lead with 1:22 left in the half.
Louisiana would score its last point in the half from the free-throw line coming from Jack Logan going two for two with under one minute to play.
Freshman Bear Bock would bring the ball up on the ensuing possession and score a layup to close out the first half and increase the Palmyra lead 25-21.
To start the second half the Panthers had different energy when entering the court, but Louisiana was also ready to play.
Palmyra center Abe Haerr would record his second basket of the game right out of the half. The Bulldogs would come back down the court and score their first basket of the second half on a Washington layup.
Zane Meyers answered back with a three-pointer for the Panthers.
Two possessions later Bulldogs center Ryan Capps would work for an offensive rebound and lay it back up to cut the lead to five.
Haerr and Meyers combined for scores leading to a 9-0 run for the Panthers over the next three minutes.
In the closing minute of the third, the Bulldogs would stop the Panther’s run by scoring on back-to-back possessions. However, Louisiana would go into the final quarter down 42-31.
Palmyra was firing on all cylinders to start the fourth quarter going on another 9-0 run, and shutting down the Bulldogs for over half of the quarter.
Louisiana would break the run at the three-minute mark in the fourth, and go on a four-point run to try and fight back into the game.
Bennett Stice would put the game in the books scoring a hook shot with less than half a minute to play in the game.
Stamper led the Panthers with 14 points while Meyers added 13. Haerr joined his teammates in double figures with 10 points. Bock and Loman tallied five points apiece in the win.
Washington led the Bulldogs with 10 points while Richards (7) and Capps (6) combined for 13 points.
With the win, Palmyra will face Highland in the district championship game on the road Friday night. The two teams split their two regular-season meetings. Highland defeated the Panthers in the championship game of its own holiday tournament, while Palmyra took the Clarence Cannon Conference matchup.
Wood knows what his team must do to win the rubber match.
“Highlands Drew Mallet is going to come out and be ready to play Friday night,” the Panthers’ coach said. “We will have to contain them on the defensive end. But, if we play as we did against them last Friday night then I like our chances, but coach (Brock) Butler will have his team ready to fight for the championship, and we have to be ready to match their intensity.”
It will be Palmyra’s second straight district title game appearance.