WALDORF, MD., FEB. 15 -- The Thomas Stone girls basketball team dominated the second half of tonight's game against La Plata and won an important Southern Maryland Athletic Conference contest, 55-50, before a loud crowd at Thomas Stone.

The win by the Cougars (16-2, 15-1) tightens the SMAC race by putting them in a first-place tie with idle Northern. Both have two games left.

"It's a tough call," Thomas Stone Coach Bob Pitts said when evaluating the SMAC race. "The whole conference has grown in the last few years. Every game is a dogfight. Right now we are taking it one game at time."

La Plata, which entered in third place, fell to 12-4, 13-7.

Sara Peterson led the Cougars with 13 points, while Jatrice Booth and Denise West added 10 points each. The Warriors' Stacey Humphries led all scorers with 26.

Down 29-23 at halftime, the Cougars came out shooting, going on a 6-0 run to start the second half and tie the game. Peterson scored two baskets, making an inside shot off a rebound and a 10-footer.

In the fourth quarter, Thomas Stone pulled ahead for good, forcing turnovers and going on a 10-3 burst. Meanwhile, the Cougars' defense shut down Humphries in the final period, holding her to three points in the final minutes. Another plus for Thomas Stone was La Plata point guard Danielle Whipp fouling out with 3:16 left, taking away some quickness.

The Cougars had to do much of their scoring without the services of guard Jennifer Merchant -- their scoring leader in past games -- who sat out the rest of the first half after picking up her third foul toward the end of the first quarter. She finished with five points. "We've been a real team all year," Pitts said. "Last year, if Jen didn't score, we didn't win. Now this year, we've been scoring as a team."