Meade beats North County for the fourth time

February 29, 1996|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Meade put its coach at ease and itself one game away from a region title by defeating host North County, 43-31, in yesterday's Class 4A East regional semifinal in Linthicum.

Yesterday's win marked the fourth straight time the Mustangs had beaten the Knights this season and, more importantly, it earned Meade a chance to play host to top-ranked Arundel, a 74-46 winner over Annapolis, in tomorrow's 7 p.m. region final.

If the Mustangs, who lost to the Arundel by 23 points earlier this season, can pull off the upset tomorrow night, it would give Meade its first region title since 1979.

"Today was the longest day of my life. I was petrified. I was scared to death because the law of averages eventually catch up with you," said Meade coach Phil Popielski, whose team had beaten the Knights by progressively wider margins in their first three meetings. "I told them it was going to be hard as heck to come up here and win today, and it was."

The Mustangs (5-18), who had to forfeit 11 wins because they used an ineligible player, broke the game open midway through the fourth quarter and never looked back. Senior Shalisa Johnson led the way for Meade with a double-double (18 points and 18 rebounds).

Dena Eldridge added 10 points for the Mustangs and Katie Netherton and Lindsey Meyer chipped in four points each.

"We had already beaten them four times so we knew just had to play hard and play like we always do," said Johnson. "We didn't come in here thinking that we were better than them. We just concentrated on playing hard."

The Knights (11-12), winners of six straight going into yesterday's clash, got 12 points from sophomore forward Allison Sabo but received little assistance from Sabo's supporting cast.

North County fell behind 7-2 in the early going but rallied back and took a 9-7 lead when Brandee Johnson (seven points) completed a three-point play at the foul line in the waning seconds of the first quarter.

Sabo kept the Knights in the game in the second quarter, scoring six of the team's eight points but back-to-back baskets by Shalisa Johnson and Eldridge helped the visitors secure a 20-17 halftime lead.

North County took its final lead of the game, 23-22, on Sabo's follow-up with 2:14 left in the third quarter, but Meade ran off eight unanswered points to take a 30-23 lead heading into the final eight minutes.

Things got worse for the Knights in the fourth quarter, which saw North County down by 14 after a short jumper from Shalisa Johnson.

"This is a [Meade] team that didn't win a game on the road all last year but they worked hard and got better," said Popielski. "We know we're really 17-7, I don't care what they want to say. You can't take that away from a kid that's in high school."

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