Because nine players departed from last year's team, which lost in the Maryland 4A state semifinals, Meade girls basketball coach Phil Popielski knew his Mustangs would have to turn it up a notch defensively in order to be successful.

Meade accomplished that last night in a 54-45 victory over Northern in Owings. The Mustangs (2-0) got 18 points and eight steals from senior forward Latanya Eldridge and 14 points and eight blocks from junior forward Nicole Dailey.

The Mustangs were 22-5 last season, but All-Met Angie Creek (Morgan State) and Katie Netherton (Loyola) graduated.

Northern (0-3) finished 24-3 last season and won its third consecutive Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title. However, All-Met Jen Mitchell (Loyola), Chanel Spriggs (St. Mary's) and Katie Andes (Millersville, field hockey) graduated. The trio had combined for 3,724 points in their careers.

"I think since [Eldridge] has played so much playground ball with the guys in Anne Arundel County, she picks things up that much quicker," Popielski said. "She is one of the most exciting players in the area."

Eldridge recorded three steals in the first 1 minute 13 seconds of the second quarter, which led to four points and a 17-8 Mustangs lead.

Meade, which kept switching from full-court to half-court pressure throughout the half, forced 11 turnovers and built a 32-18 lead at the break.

"[Meade] put the pressure on," Northern Coach Rod Stewart said. "I didn't think they pressured us as much as we thought [they would have], but they pressured us well."

Northern battled back in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 42-38 with 3:10 remaining. However, freshman forward Lindsey Lamitie (eight points, 11 rebounds) made a key three-pointer and Wilson added four points to keep the Patriots at arm's length the rest of the way.

"[Northern] really stopped thinking and started playing and reacting [in the fourth quarter," Stewart said. "They showed a lot of guts and a lot of effort."

Notes: This was the first game of the Tom Carroll benefit games. Tom Carroll, whose wife Sonja is an assistant for the Patriots girls basketball team, died last April of a heart attack--two days after the birth of their daughter, Savannah.

A scholarship fund has been set up in the child's name, and each year for the next 18--until Savannah graduates high school--the proceeds from one game will be given to the fund.