North Harford made the Harford County girls basketball race a lot closer last night by running up a big lead early and holding off previously unbeaten C. Milton Wright, 68-61.
The Hawks' victory snapped a 15-game C. Milton Wright winning streak and pulled the two into a tie for the county lead at 8-1.
If the host Mustangs (15-1) had won, they would have taken a commanding two-game lead in the county race with three games to go. Now, if both teams win their next two games, the title would be decided when the Mustangs travel to North Harford (13-6) on Feb. 22.
Last night, the two-time defending county champion Hawks ran up an 18-point lead early in the second quarter. The host Mustangs never completely recovered although they did cut the lead to four in the final minute.
Bernadette Colvin's layup with 45 seconds left in the game brought the Mustangs within 65-61. But after North Harford's Monica Joines hit the front end of the double bonus, the Mustangs turned the ball over for the 21st time in the game. The Mustangs only managed one more shot and Krystle Yost finished off the scoring for the Hawks.
But the real damage was done long before the final minute. The Mustangs, who had climbed out of several 10-15 holes this season, couldn't get out of this one.
The Mustangs struggled early against the Hawks' zone press, turning the ball over on five straight possessions. The Hawks capitalized, scoring on four of them to spark a 12-0 run for a 12-2 lead with 3: 52 left in the first quarter.
"We dropped our press back," said Hawks guard Jen Griffin. "I think they were expecting another type of press and they worked on beating that. We came out with something new and they didn't know how to beat it."
On 10-for-18 shooting from the field, the Hawks ran a 22-8 first-quarter lead. They hit their first three shots of the second quarter and back-to-back 18-footers by Joines and Cassie Knepp pushed the lead to 28-10.
The Mustangs pulled within 50-45 in the third quarter on Andrea Stephenson's 15-footer, but Joines answered with a three-pointer and a six-footer in the final 21 seconds of the quarter to push the lead to 55-45.
Joines, who scored 22, led a Hawks offense that shot 52 percent from the field in the first half and 47 percent for the game. The Hawks also got 14 points from Griffin and 12 from Jess Sturgill. Jill Hanratty added 10 and grabbed 17 rebounds as the Hawks won the battle on the boards, 45-28.
Page Heath scored 17 for the Mustangs and Colvin added 14.
Heath said the Mustangs, who haven't won a county title since the 1995-96 season, should be ready for the Hawks next time.
"We'll be ready the first quarter," said Heath. "We won't come out in a 22-8 hole. We're going to have to control the ball. We get ourselves in a hole and we've been able to come back. But this time we couldn't get over the hump."