The North Carroll girls basketball team found the road to Middletowna little rocky in its opening game of the playoffs Monday night in Hampstead.
Though Southern of Garrett County took the lead midway through the third quarter, the Panthers turned up the heat and earned a 72-62 win in the first round of the Class 2A Region I playoffs.
Meanwhile, fifth-seeded Westminster lost, 70-52, to fourth-seededFrederick in the Class 4A Region I opener Monday.
The 72-point total was one of the highest for the third-seeded Panthers (15-7) and paves the way for tonight's game against host and second-seeded Middletown of Frederick County.
"We've see Middletown and they're a goodballclub," said North Carroll head coach Greg Knill. "We have to go up there, and that's going to be a big factor. Hopefully, we will be able to take some of our fans with us."
WTTR Radio (1470 AM) will carry the game, with the pre-game show starting at 6:45 p.m.
The Knights, who had a first-round bye, are led offensively by junior center Tracey Kelley, who averaged nearly 18 points per game. Middletown finished the regular season at 18-4 overall and was second in the Monocacy Valley Athletic League with a 16-2 record.
The Panthers' winwas expected, but their top scorer was a surprise.
Casey Rhoten sustained an elbow to the mouth in the second period, but managed to tie teammate Michele Jeffery with 16 points to lead the Panthers.
"I was just working to get open," said Rhoten of her play inside.
"Michele is usually our leading scorer, and I was just trying to help out the team," Rhoten said.
While Rhoten sat out most of the thirdquarter, the Rams climbed back into the game and even took the lead briefly at 40-38.
But Francine Hewes (10 points) gave the Panthersthe lead for good, after driving to the basket on a short jumper with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
"We hadn't played in 10 days, and when they took the lead it was time to slow down and catch our breath," said Knill.
Westminster's road loss to Frederick was a microcosm of the Owls' up-and-down season.
The fourth-seeded Owls (12-11) played well early, holding a slim lead midway through the first quarter.
Later, they outscored the Lady Cadets, 16-8, to finish out the game.
Just like their season, however, it was the middle that cost them.
"We had a rough stretch," said first-year Westminster coach Bernie Koontz, whose team sandwiched a 3-0 start and a 4-0 regular-season finish around a 5-10 middle.
"If we could have just played the whole season like the first two weeks and the last two, we would have been in great shape."
Frederick forward Tanya Boyce and center Angie Davis scored almost at will in the paint, combining for 39 points -- more than half of Frederick's offense -- as time and again the Cadets were able to lob the ball inside over smaller Owls.
"Our defensive play on the inside hasn't been as strong as I would've liked," said Koontz.
"We had a lot of average size, but not that onedominant big person who could say, 'Hey, this is my game.' "