The book on North Harford's girls basketball team used to say that anyone who could slow down its two big guns, Carie James and Tracy Thompson, could stop the team.
Thursday night, C. Milton Wright managed to contain James and Thompson most of the time, but the Hawks still beat the Mustangs, 54-42.
James and Thompson combined for 25 points -- eight below their combined average. But Shannon Bracken and Cathy DeRan carried more of the load for North Harford (8-1, 3-0 league), combining for exactly half of the Hawks' points.
"Everyone thinks we're a two-man team, but we all do a lot," said Bracken, who scored 15 points and had threesteals.
Thompson got eight points on free throws and scored a game-high 16. DeRan had 12, and James added nine.
"That's a real credit to their team and how good they are that when you try to shut their top two players down, the rest of the team can come through," said Mustangs coach Gloria Leidlich.
"When they were not getting the ball to Thompson and James, Bracken and DeRan did a real nice job."
Those same four players killed the Mustangs from the free-throw line -- where the game ultimately was decided. C.M. Wright actually made one more field goal, but the Hawks sank 14 more free throws, hitting 18 of 29 to the Mustangs' four of 14.
In the first half, the Mustangs missed all nine free throws attempted and the Hawks hit 12 of 16 on the way to a 28-22 lead.
The Mustangs (5-3, 1-2) used a triangle-and-two defense to key on James, a 5-foot-11 center, and on Thompson, a 5-5 shooting guard. The strategy didn't surprise Hawks coach Lin James, although she was worried the team hadn't had enough time to prepare due to practices lost to bad weather.
"I told Shannon Bracken and Cathy DeRan that they were going to be the keys," said James. "If they could score, we were going to win the game."
The visiting Hawks appeared sloppy early, turning the ball over nine times in the first five minutes as the Mustangs took an 8-5 lead. Then Bracken puttogether her best spurt of the day. She hit three straight baskets, two on nice moves around defenders and the third on a short jump shot, to pull the Hawks within 12-11 with 58 seconds left in the first quarter.
Thompson followed with two free throws to give the Hawks a lead they would never relinquish. DeRan added a layup on a feed from James for a 15-12 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, Stacey Milton (12 points, 14 rebounds) scored on an assist from Danielle Rivas to pull the Mustangs within 19-18. But North Harford put together a 9-4 run to finish off the half. The Hawks only hit three field goals in the quarter, but added seven points on free throws.
The Hawksswitched their 1-3-1 defense to a 2-1-2 in the second half and then ran up a 38-24 lead.
"When Carie goes out of the game, they usually go to a 2-1-2," said Leidlich. "But I don't think we adjusted to itsoon enough. They put a spurt on us."
"I wanted to go to (the 2-1-2) earlier, but I didn't want to show it until after halftime," saidcoach James, who sat her daughter out most of the second quarter with three fouls. She brought her back in the third. "With the 1-3-1 we didn't control the boards, so I thought that (the 2-1-2) would give us a little more inside."
In the second half, the Hawks out-rebounded the Mustangs, 25-16, after C. Milton Wright had a 30-24 first-halfadvantage. Despite their height advantage inside, the Mustangs only managed to score off three offensive rebounds in the game.
After the Hawks raced out to their 38-24 lead, the Mustangs rallied with eight straight points to end the third quarter. Leigh Biggerman (11 points, five steals) scored four points in the rally and Kim Haker and Kelly MacNeill added two each.
Thompson opened the fourth quarter with a layup on an assist from point guard Valerie Phipps.
"This wasa big win for us," said Thompson, a senior. "Today, we really lookedlike a team. (C. Milton Wright) is one of our biggest rivals and we had never beaten them here in my four years. It's nice to finally beat them here."