Mount Hebron's girls basketball team threw tough defense, telling depth and Erica McCauley at Howard, and the combination was too much for the Lions to handle as the Vikings won an important 64-50 victory Friday night.
The Vikings (9-1 in the county, 15-3 overall) won their seventh straight game and looked ready for Tuesday's showdown against Oakland Mills. The Scorpions handed Hebron its only league loss three weeks ago. The rematch could decide the county title.
"I can't give them (Hebron) enough credit," said Howard coach Craig O'Connell, whose Lions (7-3, 12-6) lost to Hebron for the second time this year.
"No matter what I think of, they solve it," he added. "When you play Hebron, you can look at the things you did wrong, then look at the things they make you do wrong. More times than not, they make you do things wrong."
In a virtual replay of the first meeting between the teams, Hebron overcame an early Howard advantage totake a 31-26 halftime lead, then took control early in the second half with a key Howard player -- forward Krista Fulton -- on the bench in foul trouble.
Hebron held a 48-37 lead after three quarters, then blew the game open in the fourth period. The Vikings led by as much as 60-41 with 2 minutes, 51 seconds left in the game.
And they did it in familiar style by turning up the defensive pressure, then overwhelming Howard offensively with an array of players, once again led by Erica McCauley.
The 5-foot-1, sophomore point guard put on a dazzling show, scoring a game-high 22 points by mixing in three-pointbaskets, tough scoop shots inside and superb ball-handling. She madeseven of 15 shots (3-for-6 from three-point range), added seven rebounds and five assists and committed just two turnovers.
"I don't know how to stop (McCauley)," O'Connell said. "We tried to deny her the ball, but she's constantly moving, always looking for the screen, always moving without the ball. I hadn't seen her inside game before."
When Erica wasn't hurting the Lions, her sister, senior guard Christy McCauley, assumed the task. She had 13 points and seven rebounds. Then there was freshman guard Emily Yanero (12 points, four steals), senior guard Cescili Drake (five points, four steals), senior forward Andrea Day (six points, 11 rebounds) and sophomore forward Sandra Benson (four points, eight rebounds). And the Vikings didn't even have sophomore center Kris Bryant (flu) available.
In all, the Vikings' shooters hit 22 of 52 shots (42 percent), while their man-to-man defense accounted for much of Howard's offensive futility. The Lions shot just 31 percent from the floor (21-for-68), in large part becausethey couldn't work the ball inside for high-percentage shots.
Senior guard Kristi Greer led Howard with 20 points -- albeit on subpar 9-for-28 shooting -- and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. Sophomore guard Camille Powell contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Junior forward Emily Petrlik had three points and eight rebounds. Fulton added nine points.
The first half was tightly contested.The lead changed hands six times in the second quarter, before Benson scored her four points in the final minute of the half to give the Vikings a 31-26 lead at intermission.
Hebron wasted no time takingcontrol after that. Howard threw away the inbound pass to open the half, which was turned into a layup by Christy McCauley. Hebron then forced another turnover, and after Drake sank a short jumper, O'Connell called a timeout at the 6:59 mark.
Ten seconds later, the game'scomplexion changed drastically. Fulton, who had been whistled for her third foul midway through the second quarter on a questionable callin the lane, picked up her fourth on a similar call. On the same play, guard Sharon Ford sprained her ankle. Ford left the game for good,while Fulton didn't return until the start of the fourth quarter.
By that time, the Vikings had taken an 11-point lead. Hebron then went on a 9-2 run. After Yanero and Drake buried outside shots and Daysank two free throws, the Vikings were firmly in command, 57-39, with 4:19 to go.
"This is a big win," said Hebron coach Dave Greenberg. "This team (Howard) can beat any team around. They're well-coachedand they make you earn it. I think we're making strides, and this isthe time of the year to be making strides."