Severna Park girls basketball coach Kevin McGrath said his team played its best game of the year yesterday.

The Falcons' timing was odd, to say the least.

Despite losing its third starter to a season-ending injury last week and being a decided underdog to a North County team two spots higher in the Class 4A Region IV standings, Severna Park led most of theway in winning, 56-41.

Ten Falcons scored, led by sophomore guardAmy Carnaggio with 13 points. Carnaggio is subbing for Tami Riley, out with a knee injury since early in the year.

McGrath lost Barb Geary to a lingering back problem a few weeks ago, shortly before Lori Habicht -- a co-captain with Riley -- went down with an injured knee.

Instead of cursing their fate, the Falcons made a few adjustments and began anew.

"We've been working on a lot of new defenses andpresses -- a lot of hard work," Carnaggio said. "We had to really bring the team together."

"This was the third time we've lost a player this year, and every time we did, there was an adjustment period,"McGrath said. "It seems like they're getting used to it."

The Falcons used a zone defense to neutralize North County center Kim Miller, who appeared rusty after missing the past two games with a sore knee. The county's leading scorer coming in with 18.2 points a game, Miller was held to 12 points as she struggled with her outside shooting.

Miller did grab 17 rebounds, but suffered through a 4-of-12 effort from the line.

"Their strength is the post," McGrath said of theKnights. "We wanted to make sure we didn't let their strength beat us."

North County only managed eight shots in the second quarter while committing 12 turnovers, and trailed, 24-19, at halftime.

"We must have eaten something stupid for lunch or dinner today," North county coach Sally Entsminger said, smiling. "Whatever it was, they better not ever eat it again."

The lead grew to 14 points, 45-31, early in the fourth quarter, before the Knights staged a brief comeback.

They scored 10 unanswered points, including five straight from Miller and three from Renita Johnson (15 points), to reduce Severna Park's lead to 45-41 with just under three minutes remaining. But senior Tina Riley (six points) put back a miss, and the Falcons sank nine free throws while shutting out the Knights the rest of the way.

"They played really well, and they made their foul shots, and we didn't," said Entsminger, whose team entered the game 15-5 and third in the Class 4A Region IV standings, behind Old Mill and Broadneck.

Evenwhen the Falcons (14-6) missed from the line in the final quarter, they usually secured the rebound -- even after Brandee Snyder (nine points, seven rebounds) and Ann Heiser had fouled out, leaving Severna Park at a decided height disadvantage.

"No excuse for that. None,"Entsminger said. "That's just simple, unadulterated lazy play."

Falcon sophomore Katie Marks pulled down 13 rebounds, while also contributing six points. Sophomore Lori Sharpless, another player pressed into a starting role, had 10 points.

"Tonight was a perfect example of everything falling into place," McGrath said. "Everybody played their role the way they're supposed to. The kids are tuned in right now. They're doing a nice job."

With the playoffs less than a week away, Entsminger cannot easily dismiss yesterday's lackluster showing-- one that included 16-of-63 shooting from the floor.

"You just have to wonder how successful we want to be," she said. "You wonder what's going through the kids' minds."

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