By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
PALMYRA, Mo. -- Tony Stella saw his opportunity to make a play, so he lunged at the ball and intercepted the Palmyra boys basketball team's inbounds pass.
He stole all the momentum, too.
The Quincy Notre Dame junior guard took the steal and drove straight to the rim, scoring the Raiders' second basket of a 16-1 run that allowed QND to roll to an 84-49 victory in Palmyra.
Matching the Panthers' intensity on defense was a major focus for QND (9-0).
"We knew they were going to come after us when we had the ball," Stella said. "They just get after you on defense. We usually do the same thing. We've been looking for those (steals) all game, I got a good look at it and took it."
Trailing 19-12 after Alex Fitch scored to open the second quarter, Palmyra (4-2) went on a quick 8-0 run to grab a 20-19 lead with 4:07 left before halftime. Bazil Keller and Jordan Nutt scored to cut the lead to 19-16 before two baskets by Caleb Kizer put the Panthers ahead.
Normally, Raiders coach Scott Douglas would call a timeout to calm his team. Instead, he decided to see how they responded.
"I was curious to see how our guys would handle it and see if we could play through it," Douglas said. "I thought they did a good job of playing through it. Tony making that play was a big play. We started tying good possessions together and started forcing them into mistakes and tough missed shots and we rebounded better."
Fitch, who finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds, stopped the run with a layup that gave QND the lead for good. Stella's subsequent steal and score extended the Raiders' lead to 23-20. By the time the Panthers scored a field goal with 45 seconds left before halftime, the Raiders led 35-23.
QND's offensive outburst was vital to quiet a loud Palmyra crowd.
"It was definitely big because the atmosphere was real loud. They had a big crowd, and they were hyped to be playing us," Fitch said. "When they had the lead, things got a little crazy. Everyone kept their composure real well. I don't want to say I was surprised, but I was thrilled by it. We probably don't make the steal or layup if we're panicking out there."
Forcing turnovers helped QND during its runaway stretch before halftime. Palmyra turned the ball over nine times in the second quarter and couldn't find its offensive rhythm.
Panthers coach Brian Meny said the Raiders' defense played a big role in Palmyra's struggles.
"There were three possessions in a row where we didn't get a shot," Meny said. "Against that kind of pressure, you have to take care of the ball all the time. Quincy's halfcourt defense is really good. I was proud of our first quarter, at half I thought we should have been down five or seven with a chance. The second half's been our half, but we came out and missed shots."
The Raiders limited the Panthers to 35 percent (18 of 51) shooting from the field. QND led 47-36 at halftime and had its lead cut to nine points twice on baskets by Trevor Meny and Brock Butler, but Palmyra could get no closer.
"We cranked it up defensively and forced a few mistakes," Douglas said. "I thought our guys had better possessions offensively. We seemed to find a calm and that's important. We were more relaxed and we put the ball in the basket."
Chris Dietrich (18 points) and Matt McPherson (10) both scored in double figures for the Raiders, while Nutt (14), Meny (13) and Butler (12) led the Panthers.
The Raiders put Palmyra away early, something Stella feels is a real strength.
"I think that's what we're good at, putting teams away," Stella said. "It's kind of the signature of this team."