Tune doesn’t change for Panthers as defense leads to success, this time in district title game

Palmyra boys

The Palmyra boys basketball team improved to 26-1 by beating South Shelby for the Class 3 District 6 championship Saturday in Palmyra, Mo. | Submitted photo

PALMYRA, Mo. — Different day, same approach.

And more importantly, the same result.

Just ask Jeremiah Edwards.

“Defense is always our top priority,” Edwards said. “We know our offense will always pick up.”

Edwards, a 6-foot-1 block-of-granite power forward for the Palmyra boys basketball team, was one of several Panthers extolling the virtues of their club’s latest defensive effort.

The Palmyra defense has been accented and talked about so much this season it has reached the stage of broken-record status. But there’s no questioning it is at the heart and soul of a team that is showing no signs of slowing down.

That defense was in full view once more Saturday afternoon in the 41-28 victory over South Shelby in the Class 3 District 6 championship game in front of 1,100 observers.

Palmyra’s victory was its 21st straight and avenged a 39-22 loss in last season’s district to South Shelby. The Panthers (26-1) will look to extend that streak at 6 p.m. Tuesday when they host St. Louis Priory in a sectional game. 

Priory, which defeated Whitfield 56-49 Saturday in the District 5 title tilt, is now 14-14 and will be the latest to challenge Palmyra’s winning streak on its home floor, which has reached 16 dating to late last season.

But more about that Palmyra defense. 

“The kids have really bought into how important defense is,” said Panthers coach Brian Rea, now 46-9 in his two seasons at Palmyra. “Their belief (in our system) validates what we’re doing — and that we’re doing it the right way.

“I hope the community is proud of what these kids are (accomplishing).”

Palmyra has held 14 of its 27 opponents under 40 points, and five of the last eight have failed to reach 30. 

“Good defense always leads to good offense,” said Carson Hicks, a 6-foot-3 senior forward who paced the Panthers with a game-high 15 points, plus adding five rebounds and two blocked shots.

South Shelby (16-13) had inched within 33-24 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining, but Palmyra’s defense snuffed out any further advancement while its offense scored seven of the game’s closing nine points. Palmyra has won 26 of the past 31 matchups with South Shelby, and now has a 13-1 mark this season against opponents with a winning record.

“We remembered last year’s district loss,” said 6-foot-5 Palmyra point guard Bear Bock, who turned in another solid effort with 10 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks.

Bock, too, made a point to praise Palmyra’s staunch defense.

“We usually do a good job on defense,” he said. “We always say holding a team to 42 points and under is a ‘lockdown’ effort from our defense.”

Over its last eight games, Palmyra is surrendering just 30.8 points per game.

Hudson Bock, a 5-foot-10 freshman, was Palmyra’s third double-figure scorer with 11 points, including a pair of 3-point field goals. Hudson Bock registered eight 3-pointers in two district games.

Despite being the top district seed and carrying some lofty numbers tied to various winning streaks and defensive accomplishments, Hicks said he and his Palmyra teammates refuse to be affected by all the outside noise.

“I don’t feel like we’re playing under any added pressure,” he said. “We focus on one game at a time, and today we were really locked in.”

Chance Rainey led South Shelby in scoring with eight points. Preston Elsen contributed seven. Mason Phannenstiel’s five rebounds were a South Shelby high.

South Shelby finished the season with a flourish, going 5-2 down the stretch after opening the year 2-5. The Cardinals’ downfall was a 5-13 record vs. opponents with winning records. An upset of Palmyra would have given South Shelby its most wins since 2013 when it ended 22-6.

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