The Westminster Owls had just enough offense and plenty of solid defense last night to sneak past South Carroll, 41-39, and get an early edge in Carroll County.
Over the past couple of seasons, the county race has always come down to these two, so it was no surprise last night's game at Westminster wasn't decided until the final buzzer.
The Cavaliers (3-7, 0-1 in the county) took the long route in climbing back from a 31-23 deficit after three quarters. They twice got within one point of Westminster in the final minutes, but never was able to get over the final hurdle.
After Westminster's Courtney Wunderlich (12 points) hit one of two free throws to give the Owls (5-4, 1-0) a 41-39 lead, South Carroll had 11 seconds to answer.
Shannan Henley pulled up for a jumper near the free-throw line that was short and the rebound was batted around before going out of bounds off a Westminster player with one second left. Henley inbounded to Ce Wagener, just in front of the free-throw line, but her hurried shot fell short.
"They had the opportunity with the last shot of the game and we knew it had to be a catch-and-throw so we wanted to force them as far away from the basket as possible," said Westminster coach Bernie Koontz. "Defensively, we did a pretty good job and it wasn't any one person."
Both teams had problems offensively, but it was South Carroll that struggled a little more. Sound defense on both sides had a role and the long layoff also might have played a part.
The Cavaliers were seven of 21 from the free-throw line and missed many uncontested layups.
"Our defense gave ourselves a chance to win the game, but we just couldn't put the ball in the hole," said South Carroll coach Al Skierski. "Every day we work on fast break drills, but you can't create the same kind of pressure the kids have in a game. It's just a matter of relaxing and gaining confidence."
Westminster went on a 10-0 run midway through the second quarter to take a 23-13 lead. Lauren Henry started the run with a pair of free throws and then took a backdoor pass from Jill Ibex for an easy layup. Ibex then stole the inbounds pass and found Henry inside, who fed Wunderlich for an other easy two.
South Carroll got half of the 10 points back with Henley closing out the half with a steal and layup to cut the lead to 23-18.
Kim Frame stepped up in the fourth period for Westminster to help hold off South Carroll, scoring five of her six points early in the quarter.
She got to the line with 2:29 left and the Owls leading 35-31, hit the first and missed the second, but Sherry Esposito grabbed the rebound and scored.
Lindsey Vosloh answered for South Carroll with three late baskets, the last coming off a steal and feed from Carrie Tamburo to get to within 38-37 with 55 seconds left. Wunderlich then went to the line three straight trips, making three of the six free throws in the final minute.