The South Carroll Cavaliers already were giving up a couple of inches to the Westminster Owls before center Ce Wagener found herself in early foul trouble last night in Winfield.
The Cavaliers boxed out to get second shots, were the first to hit the floor for loose balls and tightened up the defense.
The reward was a 54-43 win that gave the defending county champion Cavaliers a split with the Owls in the season series and a share of the county lead with both teams owning 3-1 records. Each has one more game with both Liberty and North Carroll.
"We played with intensity tonight," said South Carroll coach Al Skierski. "The girls got some confidence tonight and found out hard work will pay off."
Junior forward Shannan Henley provided a good part of the offense with 21 points and senior guard Amy Stephenson had ddTC fine all-around effort to finish with 14 -- including seven of eight free throws in the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers (6-10) had a 15-8 lead with 5:34 left in the first half when Wagener picked up her third foul. Henley finished a drive with a left-handed layup and added a jumper and a couple of free throws to help the Cavaliers take a 26-18 lead at the half.
The lead got up to 12 early in the third quarter before the Owls (8-10) made their run. It started defensively with Jill Ibex coming up with four blocks and hitting three baskets at the other end. Her short baseline jumper got the Owls within 36-30 to start the fourth quarter.
She hit a three-pointer at the 7:46 mark of the fourth to cut the lead to 38-33, but the Cavaliers found a way to respond.
"We made the run in the third quarter, but they came back and did a good job of matching us basket for basket," said Westminster coach Bernie Koontz. "South Carroll played the better game. They worked hard to win it."
The Owls' offense, out of sync most of the night, struggled down the stretch.
After Ibex hit the early three in the fourth, the Owls didn't score again until Katie Curtin hit two free throws with 2:10 left. At that point, the Cavaliers had regained a double-digit lead and the rest of the game was spent at the free-throw line.
In the final 2:08, the Cavaliers hit of 10 of their 17 free throws to keep the Owls at a distance.
"When they had the lead down our girls relaxed and showed they can play under pressure. We showed a lot of desire tonight and played as a cohesive unit," Skierski said. "Near the end of the game, we relaxed, concentrated and were able to hit our free throws."