The Howard High School Lions took down the Centennial Eagles Tuesday, Feb. 11, in a match that had county championship implications. (Thomas Harrelson/Baltimore Sun Media Group video)

Howard guard Jayda Gilmore hates to lose. Last month, Centennial defeated her Lions in a close, defensive bout, halting a 12-game winning streak and starting a two-game losing one.

In Tuesday’s rematch – fraught with Howard County girls basketball championship implications – Gilmore didn’t waste the chance at redemption against the Eagles. Scoring all 12 of her points in the fourth quarter, the junior sparked the Lions to a 43-32 victory that gave them a game lead in the regular-season standings.

“All I know is, the last time we lost to them, it felt horrible,” said Gilmore, whose early foul trouble kept her on the bench for much of the first two quarters. “We knew we all had to get hyped up in the second half, and that’s just what I tried to do.”

In the first half, Lions center Sydney Biniak joined Gilmore on the bench with the fouls beginning to pile up. The result was telling, as the Eagles (13-3, 14-5) out-rebounded Howard, 20-10, in the first 16 minutes.

“We knew Centennial was really well balanced and really well coached,” said Howard coach Scott Robinson. “In the first half, I don’t know if we played as hard as we could, which is probably a credit to Centennial.”

Eagles guards Sara Downing (11 points) and Alicia Hsieh (7) also took advantage of a few Howard miscues, creating open lanes to the basket for quality shots. Anna Mitchell, who collected eight points and nine rebounds, also matched up defensively on anyone the Lions threw her way.

Heading into the half, down 21-17, Robinson, Gilmore and the rest of the Lions (14-2, 17-2) saw their preseason hopes of a county title hanging in the balance.

In the third quarter, Howard turned it around, catching fire in nearly every aspect of the game. In those eight minutes, Biniak brought down five of her six total rebounds, Emma Hoesman hit an important 3-pointer to cut the lead, and the defense hunkered down.

The Lions entered the final period tied at 24-24, clearly riding a new wave of confidence. Needing that extra push, Gilmore was there to answer the call.

With 6:20 left to play, the speedy guard dropped a long jumper from just inside the arc for her first basket of the game – a shot that gave her team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Less than 40 seconds later, Gilmore nailed a 3-pointer from the same area, which increased her squad’s lead to eight points.

“Jayda has a lot of confidence in herself, which she should. She’s a really good player,” Robinson said. “She wants the ball in clutch situations…I thought, in a pressure situation, she came through tonight.”

Howard’s defense matched Gilmore’s tempo as well, holding Centennial to a scoring draught that lasted nearly six minutes in the fourth quarter.

“I thought (Howard) did a great job of eliminating our shots,” said Eagles coach Bobby Macheel. “We got some good looks, but they definitely did a good job defensively and made some good halftime adjustments.”

Howard outscored the Centennial 5-2 in the final 1:15 and held on for the win.

Robinson was quick to note that his entire roster has been reliable all season. Point guard Anne Kinsey was all over the floor for the entire 32 minutes, and even hit a critical layup after being fouled in the lane late in the game. The Lions also got contributions from players such as Natalie Talley, whose four points included a jumper from the corner as time expired in the first half.

The tandem of forwards Emileigh Scott (6 points) and Berit Batterton (5) also played an integral role, combining for eight rebounds. The two also played strong defense against Centennial forward Kimmy Eads.

“We have good team chemistry,” Robinson said. “Every girl that was on the court I thought contributed in some way.”

The loss hurts Centennial’s chances of winning a league title, but Macheel told his players not to get down.

“We need to work on getting better,” he said.

The Lions are in a position to dictate their future as county champions – something that might have seemed unlikely after its two losses back in January.