In an otherwise evenly matched game between two talented teams, Arundel had one thing on visiting St. Frances last night that proved to be an influential factor in the end - experience.
Clamping down on defense and controlling the boards, hitting big shots and using the clock wisely in the pivotal fourth quarter, the No. 1 Wildcats turned a potential scare into a 59-45 win over the No. 5 Panthers in Gambrills.
Senior guard Alex McGuire led Arundel with 25 points and the other four returning starters from last year's Class 4A state finalist made their contributions to shake off the young but talented Panthers, who have won the past two Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference crowns.
"There's pride in what the kids have done, and we didn't play well in the first half but we took the challenge personally and stepped up in the second half," said Arundel coach Lee Rogers.
The Wildcats (5-0) took a 40-39 lead into the fourth quarter and went on a 13-5 run to take control.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers - who got 17 points from Mi-Khida Hankins and 14 more from Kandace Walker - didn't get the second and third shots they were able to get earlier in the game and convert into baskets.
Meanwhile, Arundel was efficient at its end during the key stretch, with two baskets coming from forward Janae Butler, two free throws and a jumper from McGuire, a drive by senior guard Ana Baker and an inside basket from forward LaTavia Vails coming in the run that made the difference.
Baker finished with 14 points, Butler had eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks, and Vails finished with six points, six rebounds and four steals.
Until the fourth quarter, the biggest lead for either side came in the early stages when the Wildcats took an 8-4 lead midway through the first.
"We pressured their guards more so they couldn't get it to their post players as much, so it just took all our energy in our bodies to get it done. We just went to our hearts and pushed it out," said Baker.