If defense can win championships, it can lose them, too.
Fallston's girls basketball team discovered that Thursday. The Cougars had relied on a hyperactive defense to run up a 10-game winning streak and give them a shot at the county championship.
But with the title on the line Thursday, the Cougars weren't the ones playing dominating defense.
As Fallston's tight zone started to fall apart in the second half, C. Milton Wright unveiled a sticky man-to-man that turned the game around.
The Mustangs had trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half, but they rallied to take a 49-42 victory. The win probably sealed the county championship for the Mustangs (16-2 overall, 11-1 league). Fallston (13-5, 10-3) could have forced a tie for the title with a victory.
It still is mathematically possible for the Cougars to catch the Mustangs. But C. MiltonWright would have to lose both of its remaining league games. That is unlikely.
So the Mustangs celebrated their victory Thursday. "This is probably one of the best teams I've ever had in terms of chemistry," said Mustangs' coach Gloria Liedlich. "They have a lot of spirit and they're totally unselfish. Somehow they find a way to win."
Early on, it looked as though Fallston might run away with Thursday'sgame. The Cougars blasted off to an 11-2 lead.
Fallston's tight defense sparked its trademark transition game, and it controlled the boards. The Cougars outrebounded the Mustangs, 30-13, and allowed themjust four second shots.
The Cougars sent the Mustangs to the lineon three of those follow shots. But C. Milton Wright struggled from the line, hitting just 1-of-6 attempts. The Mustangs were 2-of-11 in the half.
"In the first half, we had one shot and that was it," said Liedlich. "At halftime, I told them getting fouled was as good as a turnover, because we weren't getting any points, and Fallston was getting the rebounds."
In the second half, the Mustangs turned the game around with their man-to-man defense. They also picked up the pace on offense, moving their quick passes easily through the Fallston defense.
The Mustangs took their first lead of the game, 31-29, onStacey Milton's free throws late in the third quarter. Through the final 2 minutes, 36 seconds of the quarter, the Mustangs outscored Fallston, 10-2, to take a 39-31 lead.
Fallston couldn't get anything to fall, missing its first 13 shots from the field and hitting only one of 14 in the quarter.
Milton, a 6-foot junior center, led the Mustangs with 19 points and 18 rebounds. But Milton, who also had six steals and three assists, only scored eight in the second half. The rest of the team backed her up -- something that hadn't happened in Jan. 28's 44-41 loss to Fallston.
"It wasn't necessarily Stacey as much as everybody else on the team putting in the shots this time," said Fallston's Cindy Jenkins. "Even if we had stepped out to challengethem, they were putting those shots in, and they weren't doing that in the first game."
Forward Danielle Rivas scored 11 for the Mustangs, but point guard Debbie Keiser and back-up guard Nicole Kemp alsomade key offensive contributions. Keiser added seven points to go with five assists.
Kemp came off the bench late in the first quarterto score eight, mostly from the outside. She also had four steals and two assists.
"Our man-to-man made our kids more active instead of reactive," said Liedlich.
"We had a couple of crucial steals. That turned it around and built our confidence."
The Mustangs face Aberdeen Tuesday in a game rescheduled from last Tuesday, and they travel to meet Edgewood on Thursday in a game postponed by the Feb. 13 snow.
The Cougars have one league game remaining -- Monday's snow-day make-up with Havre de Grace.