By Rich Campbell
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 1, 2007
The crowd roared at Old Mill on Tuesday night as Aleah Queen's three-point attempt swished through the net in the second quarter, increasing the Patriots' lead over No. 9 Arundel to seven points. It was starting to seem as if it was Old Mill's night to finally knock its rival from its county perch.
Demonstrating the poise of a four-time defending county champion, however, the Wildcats didn't flinch. Instead, they stayed focused and overpowered No. 20 Old Mill in the second half of a 71-59 victory.
"There's never a point where we're going to give up," Arundel junior guard Brittany Watts said. "We're just not going to give up, regardless of what the score is. We grow so much as a team every game. This is one of those life lessons. You don't ever come in there lightly."
Arundel (13-3, 11-0) hasn't trailed often this season, especially in county play. It came into Tuesday's game having outscored county opponents by an average of 41.5 points.
But when that unfamiliar feeling surfaced Tuesday, the Wildcats relied on the experience they gained in three December losses to strong private schools.
"They helped us grow as far as playing through things, not panicking, keeping our poise," Arundel Coach Lee Rogers said.
The losses "show you what you need to work on," Arundel center Simone Egwu added. "You can't get better playing little teams here and there. You've got to play the big people. You think you've got it together in the county, but you've got to play people like that to see where your weak spots are."
On Tuesday, those weak spots were on defense in the first half. The Patriots were successful pounding the ball inside against a much taller Arundel front line. That, in turn, was setting up open outside shots such as Queen's three-pointer, which gave Old Mill a 35-28 lead with two minutes left in the first half.
"They had a lot more energy," Rogers said. "They were taking advantage of our size with some quicker players."
Arundel stayed calm and tied the score at 37 by halftime. Then the Wildcats took the lead for good by starting the second half on a 12-2 run. They clamped down on defense and got six straight points from Watts during the run.
That the Wildcats overcame the adversity pleased Rogers as much as the final score did.
"I think they're growing up on the job," he said. "We lost three tough ballgames early, but I think that toughened us up. They're playing through it."
The Patriots (14-2, 11-1) came away knowing they can play with Arundel, which beat them three times last season, including in the county title game. If there is a rematch, the Patriots know they have to put Arundel away if they get ahead.
"We're going to be ready for them in the county championship," Old Mill senior Kiara Thomas said. "I think we were ready for them. We just didn't play like it in the second half."