When his team got off to a disappointing 0-3 start, Arundel girls basketball coach Lee Rogers decided to re-evaluate himself, rather thanhis players.
"I was into wanting to win so badly. I had to do some things differently, back off and let it be a little more pleasant and not be on them all the time. I had to let them get comfortable," he said.
"When I did that, things started to fall into place."
Four consecutive games since then have fallen into the win column, including Friday's championship round of the Arundel Christmas Tournament, whenthe host Wildcats defended their title by pulling away in the last three minutes for a 64-51 victory over Westminster of Carroll County.
Northeast won the consolation game, 47-19, over Meade, as Stacy Reynolds scored 19 points and Debbi Dadds added 12 points and 25 rebounds.
Westminster presented the latest in a series of imposing challenges for Arundel, which opened the season with losses to Poly, 48-41, Southern, 54-40, and Hammond, 58-43, before reeling off victories over North County, 50-47, Northeast, 57-46, and Meade, 55-31.
"We had four ranked teams right away, and Northeast is not a pushover," Rogers said. "Eventually, we started putting things together, but it took those first three games. We learned from that. We took the negative things and made them positive.
"One of the big keys for us was beating North County. Some of the things I was trying to get them to do, they didn't believe they could do it. Now, they realize that they are capable."
Among the players that Rogers had to convince was senior Mary Pat Fannon, whose importance to the team grew with the departure of All-County guard Donna Parker and a preseason knee injury tosenior forward Michelle Harrison.
"I was telling her, 'You have to shoot, you have to shoot,' and to her, that was pressure," Rogers said. "I backed off of her and let her take charge, and she's startingto believe."
Fannon made a believer out of Westminster (4-3) Friday. She scored 12 of Arundel's last 16 points, beginning with a one-hander from the baseline with 3 minutes, 33 seconds left that broke a 48-48 tie -- the 11th and last time the teams would be even.
The 5-foot-4 guard scored again from the baseline and followed her own miss after a Westminster turnover to give Arundel a 54-48 lead. She rebounded an Owls' miss and sank two free throws to complete her own 8-0 run, and added four free throws in the last minute to finish with 21 points.
With teammates Alina Smith and Latoy Long on the bench with four fouls, "I knew I had to contribute my amount of points," said Fannon, who also had five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
"It felt a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but I knew we couldpull it out. We've been working well as a team, even when the secondstring comes in."
Teammate Sarah Melby, a junior forward, had 12 points, five rebounds, four steals and two blocks. Smith added 10 points, sophomore guard Courtney Finch had seven points, and senior center Long contributed six points and seven rebounds.
"Melba came through in the clutch. When we had to hit the boards, she was there," Rogers said. "I've been on her all year, and she came through at the right time. And hopefully, her confidence level is going to rise, and she'll continue to improve."
The Wildcats are improving at a fasterrate than Rogers anticipated when he took over the program three years ago. Then, he said it would take "maybe four years" for his team to join the county's elite.
"We still have a step to climb, but thekids are going to tell me I'm wrong and we are ready now," he said. "As long as they believe they can do it, I have to believe with them."