Confidence was wearing thin for the 14th-ranked Howard Lions before last night's game against No. 16 Wilde Lake.
After losing four games this season by five points or fewer, the defending Class 3A state champions simply needed to have a break go their way.
And with Wildecats leading scorer Kristen Riismandel out with strep throat, the Lions found just what they were looking for.
Howard got 14 points from forward Mona Jackson and nine each from Chanelle Carter and Katie Kile en route to a 48-39 Howard County League victory.
With the win, Howard (6-5 overall, 1-2 in the league) avoided extending their losing streak to four games and starting county play 0-3.
The Lions also gained a huge boost in morale.
"We needed to come away with a win tonight," said Lions coach Craig O'Connell, whose team had dropped heartbreakers to Hammond, South Carroll, Westminster and Mount Hebron. "It was crucial. We thought if we could beat a good team like Wilde Lake that we'd be back in the direction we need to be going."
Howard, behind Kile's three first-half three-pointers, broke on top, 20-10 midway through the second quarter and never trailed again -- despite foul trouble that kept Jackson and Carter on the bench for much of the second and third quarters.
But Wilde Lake (7-2, 2-1) hurt its cause with dismal shooting, especially in the first half.
After taking a 10-9 lead late in the first quarter, the Wildecats missed 19 of their next 20 shots. They made just two of their 20 foul shots for the game.
"We do that every single day in practice," said Wilde Lake coach Kelly Storr, whose team normally shoots over 50 percent from the line. "We want to get sent up there, but today we couldn't but it in."
The Wildecats trailed by as many as 15 points before making a late run to close the gap. Guards Toni White (14 points) and Lashon White (11) single-handedly kept them in the game with accurate outside shooting.
Down the stretch, however, Jackson showed the poise that's helped make her one of the top players in the county, scoring 10 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Lions comfortably on top.
"Sometimes we slump at the end of the game, and we need to keep our momentum going," said Jackson. "This was an ugly game for us but we stuck together and pushed it out."
O'Connell said that he'll take a win any way he can get it right now. He said that this year's team reminds him somewhat of last season's. That team began the season 9-10 before winning seven straight and winning the state title.
For Wilde Lake, however, the loss broke a four-game winning streak and slowed a promising season.
Storr said she was pleased her players never gave up even when trailing by double digits.
L "We never quit," she said, "and I'm proud of them for that."