MIDDLETOWN — A fine season came to a disappointing end Wednesday night when the North Carroll girls basketball team was eliminated from postseason play by Middletown, 57-54, in Class 2A Region I semifinal round action.
The Panthers finished the season with a 16-8 mark; they were county champs at 6-1 and tied for second in the Central Maryland Conference with Frederick at 8-4.
"We set two goals at the beginning of the year, which were to improve from last year and go farther (in the region playoffs), and we did that," North Carroll coach Greg Knill said.
In a physical game with a vocal crowd and some officials' calls and non-calls that puzzled the North Carroll bench, the Panthers didn't go down without a fight on Wednesday.
Middletown, of Frederick County, took a five-point lead after the first half, 25-20 -- the biggest of either team to that point.
A three-minute stretch at the start of the third quarter proved costly for the Panthers, however. With Middletown already up25-22, the Knights increased the lead to 11 on an 8-0 run by 6-foot center Tracey Kelley, who finished with a game-high 22.
Down by 11at the start of the fourth, North Carroll twice cut the Knights' lead to two before falling short by three in the end.
"The kids fought hard and have a lot of reasons to hold their heads high," Knill said.
"The parents also have a lot to be proud of tonight."
Jenni Heindel led a balanced attack with 13 points. Eight Panthers scored in the losing effort.
"I just told the kids I felt they overcame a lot and showed a lot of class under the circumstances," Knill said ofhis post-game locker room talk.
"I wanted them to realize that they moved the program forward. The kids have a lot of pride and talentand really showed that tonight."
There were many more highlights than low ones in the Panthers' season, which Knill hopes will be a building block for years to come.
"We got off to a good start this season and played well down the stretch," he said.
"Winning the county title for the first time in some 10 years was a highlight, and wealso were a higher seed in the region playoffs."
One bright spot from Wednesday's game was junior forward Michele Jeffery, who, despite early foul trouble, managed 11 rebounds to break North Carroll's single-season rebounding mark with 285. The previous mark (279 rebounds) was set by North Carroll grad Lisa Garland last season.
Jeffery was the only girl in the county during the regular season to average double figures in rebounding with 12; she also averaged 11.5 points agame.
"Michele is the focal point of our team and works hard for her rebounds," Knill said.
Five seniors -- guards Kim Piccione, Vicki Jackson, Mindy Bankert and forwards Heindel and Jennie Cooper -- played their final game in a North Carroll uniform.
All played major roles in the team's success this season.
"All five seniors are going to be missed," Knill said.
"They were all very hard workers who helped move the program along, and while they didn't get to wherethey wanted -- the state tournament -- they did help reach our goal of improving. I'm proud of all of them."