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At the beginning of basketball season, Steve Chaires feared he mightend up watching more games than he would play during his senior yearat Fallston.

The starting goalie for the Cougars' soccer team, Chaires had sat out much of the soccer season with a detached muscle inhis hip. He made it back for the playoffs, but as soon as basketballseason opened, Chaires tore two ligaments in his ankle.

"That kept me out for three weeks, but I was pretty determined I was gonna play," said Chaires, who spent hours every day in therapy.

The 6-foot guard returned to the Cougars lineup after missing onlytwo games, and is averaging nearly 20 points a contest.

In Tuesday's 46-44 victory over Bel Air -- the Cougars biggest win of the season -- Chaires scored only 11 points but he added five assists.

Oneof the county's best perimeter shooters, Chaires has tried to adjusthis game in the face of increased defensive pressure.

"I realize I'm going to be double-teamed a lot," he said. "I feel my role has changed more to distributing the ball. That's what I'm trying to focus on."

"Steve's very unselfish," said Fallston coach Robin Hood. "He's gone from always looking for the shots and being the primary shooter to scoring a solid 20 in most games and looking for the backdoor cuts. If we get our inside game going, it frees him up."

Against Bel Air, the Cougars (8-10 overall, 4-7 league) got their inside game going -- and more. In the first quarter, 6-2 forward Brian Fruhling scored eight of the Cougars' first 10 points -- all on assists down low.

The lead went back and forth until late in the second quarter when Bel Air (7-11, 5-6) took control.

The Bobcats' 6-8 center Matt Sedgely (14 points) scored the final six points of the half, including four free throws, to give Bel Air a 24-17 lead.

The Bobcats extended their edge to 10 midway through the third quarter. But Brett Seidel sparked Fallston's comeback with a couple of 18-footers -- the second on a feed from Chaires, who went on to add two free throws and ashort jumper to the rally.

Ephraim Dorsey fed Nick Jones for a layup with 18 seconds left in the third quarter to close the gap to 34-33.

Fallston took its first lead of the fourth quarter, 38-36, on another Dorsey-to-Jones connection, at the 6:18 mark.

The lead changed hands four more times before Fallston got the final word.

Seidel's layup, after a nice move around Sedgely, proved to be the game-winner, 46-44, with 38 seconds left.

But the tension was far from over.

Dorsey fouled Sedgely as he went up for a shot with 18 seconds left.

Hood called three straight time outs to keep Sedgely -- who had hit four straight free throws after missing his first two -- thinking about the shots.

Sedgely missed them both.

"You do whatyou do statistically," said Hood, explaining that the longer a shooter thinks about free throws the more likely he is to miss them. "Hey,if I make that call and he misses 'em, everybody says it's a great coaching move. If he hits em, everybody's saying that was a stupid call."

Free-throw shooting made the difference for the Cougars. They hit 10 of 22 from the line to the Bobcats' five of 11.

Another keyfor the Cougars was the contribution of a few youngsters. SophomoresJohnson (eight points, three rebounds) and Dorsey (three assists) came through in the second half.

In addition to improving their chances for a Class 1A playoff berth, the Cougars got an emotion al boostfrom the Bel Air win, said Hood.

"It's a big win because we've been in so many close games and played so well we needed to win a closegame. We've been in this situation seven or eight times. It's great to finally win one."

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