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3rd-quarter collapse dooms Key, 58-43 League title hopes, 10-point lead disappear against Middletown; Girls basketball


MIDDLETOWN -- The Francis Scott Key Eagles came out in typical form last night against Middletown, building a 10-point first-quarter lead in a game that would decide the Monocacy Valley Athletic League title.

The rest of the night -- particularly a devastating third quarter in which the Knights rattled off the first 15 points -- wasn't so kind for the No. 19 Eagles.

After the disappointing 58-43 loss, the Eagles (19-3, 15-3 MVAL) left Middletown wondering what happened to the 10 points that separated the two teams in the first meeting -- a 56-46 Key win in Uniontown -- along with the first quarter.

"We stopped working," said Key coach Alice Smith. "In a game like this, you can't stop working."

It's the second straight MVAL title for Middletown, who improved to 18-4 overall and finished 16-2 in the league.

Going into last night's game, Smith said a couple of keys for her Eagles would be successfully working the ball inside and getting back on defense.

In the second half, neither happened.

Senior center Stephanie Stambaugh's early foul trouble caught up with her and the Eagles' persistence to continue to go inside without results translated into easy baskets for Middletown guard Joann Engestron, who often beat the Eagles down the floor for easy layups to finish with a game-high 24 points.

She had six points in the Knights' pivotal third-quarter run, which finally ended with Key sophomore point guard Sindi Stem hitting two free throws with 3: 38 left in the quarter. By then, the Eagles' four-point halftime lead was a 35-26 deficit.

"Middletown really bothered us defensively," said Smith. "When we weren't making our shots, we stopped when we needed to push harder."

Senior guard Nicole Keffer, who watched most of the fourth quarter after reaggravating a broken finger on her shooting hand, said the team did too much thinking.

"It was a lot of pressure and we've been thinking about Middletown for awhile and what we had to do. It got the best of us," she said.

At the start, the Eagles looked as if they came ready to play.

Their zone press gave the Knights early problems and at the other end, the Eagles were executing their half-court offense very well, going on an 11-0 run midway through the first quarter to lead 15-5.

Eight second-quarter points from Engestron helped get the Knights back in the game and they came out in the third quarter and simply took it.

"We played much better defense in the second half," said Middletown coach Mark Miller. "We were able to contain their post players. We didn't do that in the first half. When we play better on defense, we always play better on offense."

Stambaugh finished with 12 to lead the Eagles, who will try to put this loss aside with an opening round region game against Poolesville tomorrow.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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