In the end, South Carroll had too many offensive and defensive weapons and too much hustle for 10th-ranked Howard and Mona Jackson.
The 12th-ranked Cavaliers girls basketball team parlayed all those assets into a 56-50 victory over the Lions last night at South Carroll.
At the start of the game, it was the inside game of Ce Wagner (15 points, 8 rebounds) and Nicole Spencer (9 points, 10 rebounds) that carried South Carroll, and down the stretch, it was the leadership and shooting of Amber Clutter and the all-around hustle of Melissa Gettemy that sparked the home team.
Clutter, a senior point guard, virtually took over the game in the final three minutes after she made a beautiful drive to the basket for a spinning layup to push South Carroll ahead, 51-50, with 3:04 left.
That Clutter drive through the entire Howard defense prompted her to drive the lane almost every time down the court the rest of the game, and Howard (3-2) could do nothing but foul her.
After Gettemy pushed home a nifty follow shot to send the Cavaliers (4-1) ahead, 53-50, with 56 seconds on the clock, it was mostly all Clutter.
The Lions, defending state Class 3A champions, fouled Clutter three times in the final 26 seconds, setting up one-and-one free-throw opportunities.
Clutter had some problems at the line but wound up hitting the final three points of the game to seal the win.
Clutter finished with 14 points -- 12 in the second half -- four steals and three assists, and Gettemy had 11 points, eight rebounds, five steals and three assists.
Clutter also had the task of guarding Jackson. Even though Howard went to Jackson almost every time down the court in the second half, Clutter was able to contain her reasonably well.
Jackson scored 11 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 21 points.
For the winners, Wagner, a 6-foot sophomore, also contributed a big block with 45 seconds left in the game. Wagner rejected a shot by Megan Boehm, preserving a 53-50 lead.
With 32 seconds on the clock, Jackson nearly tied the game with a looping three-point shot that rimmed the basket and fell out.
After that, it was all Clutter and the Cavaliers, who outrebounded Howard, 42-27, and had a 12-1 bulge in free throws.
"Once Amber saw she could beat the Howard defense with her drives, she was super," said South Carroll coach Al Skierski.
"We're not running our offense," Howard coach Craig O'Connell said. "We let them have too many second shots. It's all just so frustrating. And we never have any shooting luck in this gym."