Catonsville faced a frenetic pressing defense for an entire game for the first time this season and survived behind its own stellar defense in a 54-37 triumph at host New Town on Friday night.
The Comets (9-2) held the Titans (6-3) to 16 field goals in 67 attempts (24 percent) and committed only seven personal fouls.
New Town junior Jannan Tucker, who carried a 31.7-point scoring average into the game, was held to just 17 points, as she misfired on 29 of 36 field goal attempts.
Despite her off-shooting night, Catonsville coach Mike Mohler was aware Tucker could explode at any moment.
"When you play the best player in the state, nothing is safe," said Mohler, whose squad rallied from an 8-6 first-quarter deficit to take a 29-15 halftime lead, thanks to a pair of three-pointers from Rachel Schwaab (10 points, 13 rebounds) and a three-pointer from Kayla Gibson (3 points, 3 assists, 4 steals).
Mohler was more impressed with Schwaab's effort on Tucker in the man-to-man defense in the first half.
"Rachel's defense was what we preached and she did a great job," Mohler said.
Schwaab deflected the praise.
"Everyone was trying to help on her, so it was good team defense," Schwaab said.
New Town's defense, led by freshman Kiara Wilson (4 steals), Tucker (3 steals) and freshmen Sydney Hines and Destiney Taylor-Betts (2 steals each) forced 24 Comet turnovers and made guards Gibson, Lauren McDonald, Maddie Hunt, Breya Wallace and Heather Kendrick work to get the ball up court on every possession.
"We haven't seen somebody really come after us like that, but we gutted it out and it was a good hard-fought win," Mohler said.
When they did beat the pressure, they opened up passing lanes and got the ball inside to Taylor Barton (16 points, 7 rebounds), Deb Milani (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Danielle Francy (7 points).
"Once we dropped some shots, the inside opened up and we were allowed to get those nice passes inside," Schwaab said.
Although New Town's lightning-quick Wilson was a fly in the ointment in the backcourt, Catonsville's screens and cuts kept her and the rest of the Titans off balance in the frontcourt.
"I was kind of confused," she said. "One minute, I'm on one girl and I turn around and she's gone and I'm like, 'Where did she go.' They did good with that."
Neither team hid the fact they were going to be physical for all 32 minutes, but it took its toll on the Comets in the third quarter when Hines (13 points) cut Catonsville's lead to six, 35-29, on a short jumper with 1:45 left.
But the Comets, who switched to a 2-3 zone two minutes earlier, stayed in the zone and the Titans never got any closer.
"We just couldn't get past that hump," New Town coach Gena Young said. "We just needed that one burst."
But, as they did in three of the four quarters, when they didn't score in double figures, they couldn't shots to drop.
In the fourth quarter, Milani, who made a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the first half, scored six points, including four free throws, and Barton and Hunt chipped in four points to salt away the victory.
"We got fortunate tonight. They missed some shots," said Mohler, who celebrated his birthday. "They gave me the best present they could have given me."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun