County basketball teams are pressing hard to clinch spots in the upcoming region playoffs as they head into the final stretch of the season.

At this point, nobody is scrambling harder than Westminster. The girls and boys squads are both on the bubble, needing wins in the last 10 days of the regular season to secure a playoff spot.

Westminster's boys took a big step in that direction Monday nightwith a 69-53 victory over Frederick, another team fighting for one of the regional berths. Before that game, the Owls were in sixth in Class 4A Region I, just behind Randallstown and just ahead of Frederick. The girls, meanwhile, were battling Wootton, Frederick and Randallstown for the last three playoff spots.

The top six teams in each region advance to the playoffs, which start Feb. 25.

Westminster's boys wrap up the season against three county teams, starting with Friday's game at South Carroll (5:30 p.m. junior varsity, 7 varsity). The Owls beat the Cavs last month in Westminster, 63-47.

The Owls also are shooting for county and Central Maryland Conference titles, and the final regular-season games will determine those standings. A win over South Carroll would clinch the county crown.

The girls team, meanwhile, appeared to be in somewhat better position when the mostrecent region standings were compiled Thursday, but the Owls promptly lost to Liberty on Friday. Frederick and Randallstown won on Friday, and Frederick topped South Carroll Monday.

Westminster's girls also have three county games still on the schedule, beginning tomorrownight at home against South Carroll (5:30 and 7 p.m.). South Carrollhad upset the favored Owls, 50-27, when the clubs squared off in January.

Westminster, Liberty and North Carroll are contesting for county honors (each had just one loss as of the weekend), though none of the three have a shot at the CMC girls crown. Linganore clinched that Friday night.

In other sports this weekend:

* South Carroll and Francis Scott Key have clinched spots in the boys playoffs, though they can jockey for better position in their season-ending games. The top team in each region gets home-court advantage in the playoffs,as does the top-seeded team in each game.

The Cavs, of course, play Westminster Friday and end with games against North Carroll and Liberty, as the four county teams in the Central Maryland Conference meet in the final days of the season. South Carroll and Howard were tied for third in the Class 3A Region I standings through weekend play and likely will finish no worse than fourth, earning home-court advantage in the first round.

Key, meanwhile, plays host to winless Catoctin Friday (5:30 and 7 p.m.), with hopes of catching Owings Mills for fourth in the Class 1A Region II standings.

Liberty and North Carroll, two county teams with just slim playoff hopes, tangle Friday in Hampstead (5:30 and 7 p.m.).

The Panthers are in eighth place inthe Class 3A Region I standings and lost a chance to pick up eight region points when they lost to Class 4A North County (Anne Arundel County), 64-50, Monday night. The Panthers could earn enough points in their last three games to catch sixth-place Centennial and seventh-place Linganore, but only if those two continue to lose.

Liberty is out of playoff contention.

* In girls hoops, North Carroll and Liberty seem assured of playoff berths, but county honors and region standings will be on the line when the two meet Friday in Eldersburg (5:30 and 7 p.m.). The winner likely will have the inside track to the county title and a better shot at fourth in the Class 3A Region I standings -- and home-court advantage in the first round.

South Carroll isn't eliminated from playoff contention, but will need a strong showing in the final weeks to move up from eighth to sixth. Losing streaks from Centennial and Thomas Johnson wouldn't hurt either. Liberty and North Carroll appear destined to battle for fourth and fifth, andthe Panthers' romp past 4A North County Monday boosted their position.

Key's girls, with only a distant hope for a spot in the Class 1A Region II playoffs, visit Catoctin Friday (6 and 7:30 p.m.).

* The Western Maryland men's and women's basketball teams end their season Saturday, with the women at Elizabethtown (2 p.m.) and the men at home against Dickinson (8 p.m.). The wrestlers also wrap up the regular season Saturday at Moravian and with Gettysburg in a 1:30 p.m. tri-meet, while the swim team ends the regular season tonight at 6 at Washington College on the Eastern Shore.

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