C. Milton Wright forward Stacey Milton is just about back to full strength. That's bad news for the rest of the county's girls basketballteams.
But that's great news for the Mustangs.
Milton sat out early in the season recovering from mononucleosis and a finger broken in five places. She returned to the lineup full time last week and led the Mustangs to their biggest two wins of the season.
First, they beat co-defending county champ North Harford, 43-37, on Tuesday. Not only did Milton contribute 19 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, four assists and two steals, but she scored six of the Mustangs' 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Thursday, Milton had 22 points, 18 rebounds, three blocks, one assist and six steals in a 41-34 win over Edgewood. She also scored 13 of the Mustangs 15 fourth-quarter points and assisted on the other two.
"Without that kind of performance from her, I don't think we would have pulled those games out," said Mustangs coach Gloria Liedlich. "The thing about Stacey is that when it comes down to crunch time, she always wants the ball."
Milton's efforts have helped the Mustangs to the top of the Harford County standings. With a 5-0 league record, they already have beaten Bel Air, the county's other co-defending champ. Their record now makes the Mustangs the front-runner in the race for the county championship they last won in 1990.
The Mustangs also have a good shot at a regional playoff berth. In eight games overall, they have onlyone loss -- by two points to Centennial in December.
With Milton back, the Mustangs' inside game is almost unstoppable. Opponents haven't been able to stop 5-11 Milton and 5-10 Danielle Rivas. When one draws the defense, the other is usually wide open.
Milton and Rivashad their first real test against North Harford (6-5, 4-1), a squad which also boasts some strong inside players, Carie James and Tonia Bruno.
The game stayed close in the first half, but C. Milton Wright started to pull away in the third quarter. With James on the bench for eight minutes with three fouls, the Mustangs outscored the Hawks,19-8.
"There's no doubt we played a different defense when she's in the game," said Liedlich. "With her out, it enabled us to put morepressure on the other four players in the game."
James (six points, 16 rebounds) returned with 3 minutes, 42 seconds left in the thirdquarter and the Mustangs leading, 25-18. But the Mustangs didn't letup. They led, 33-20, at the end of the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Hawks switched to a man-to-man defense and rattled the Mustangs. North Harford scored 10 unanswered points to pull within three.
"I think we were getting nervous that they were going to tie," said Milton. "The closer they got, the more we rushed our shots."
With 4:13 to go, Milton turned the momentum back to the Mustangs. She took an outlet pass, drove into the lane and pulled up and made a short jumper.