Arundel and Meade now have company.
The Severna Park Falcons -- who relied on a zone defense with occasional half-court pressure that had No. 5-ranked Arundel puzzled in the first half and a clutch 23-point performance from junior guard Natalie Hicks -- brought in the New Year with a stunning 62-59 win over the visiting Wildcats last night.
The talk from the county coaches going into the season had Class 4A state runner-up Arundel and county runner-up and No. 6 Meade clearly at the top of the list, with Severna Park a team to possibly watch out for.
"We're here," said first-year coach Bill Giblin, whose Falcons also knocked off No. 15 Centennial from Howard County over the holiday break.
With the Wildcats (5-4) missing their first 12 shots of the game and first seven in the second quarter, the Falcons (5-4) were able to build a 26-6 lead midway through the second quarter, with Hicks providing half the team's offense.
In the last 10 seconds of the first quarter, she hit a basket from the left side, then forced a turnover and hit a three-pointer with three seconds left to give the Falcons a 24-6 lead.
Hicks still had plenty left for the second half when the Wildcats -- who were without starter Najmah Fauntleroy and regular Bre Kitchen for undisclosed reasons -- twice got to within one behind perimeter shooting from senior Meagan Rollins (14 points) and Jill Marano (13 points) and pressure defense off their made shots.
The Wildcats got within one in the final minute of the third quarter and later at 57-56 with 1: 22 left in regulation, only to see Hicks answer both challenges with three-pointers on the Falcons' subsequent possessions.
"I didn't think about it. If I'm open, I shoot the ball. If I'm not, I'll pass the ball. It doesn't faze me at all," said Hicks. "Every year, [Arundel] seems to blow us out. This year, we got the big win. It feels good to beat them -- it's been a long time."
The Wildcats still weren't through after Hicks' last big answer, getting a three of their own from Rollins to once again cut the lead to one at 60-59 with 1: 03 left.
Forward Lauren Bessire (14 points) scored inside off a pass from Meg Miller to give the Falcons a 62-59 lead. Rollins had two three-point tries in the closing seconds -- both hurried and off the mark.
"This is a pretty big win for us and the girls deserve it. They've been playing well and not getting a lot of recognition playing one of the toughest schedules around," said Giblin.
The Falcons also got some strong inside play from Kim Lawton, who finished with 10 points, along with key contributions from Lauren Huber (eight points) and Miller at the point.
Arundel senior center Shaute Edmonds had a strong defensive effort and picked up her offensive game in the second half to finish with 12.