Langley girls basketball coach Cheryl Buffo surprised her team twice before its game at Fairfax last night. First, she said the Saxons would not score more than 40 points against the Rebels. Then she said the Saxons still would win.

She was right on both counts. Saxons senior Kathryn Hemlock got a steal and made a layup with 37.9 seconds left for the final points in Langley's 39-37 victory in the Virginia AAA Liberty District season opener for both teams. Hemlock, a 5-foot-3 guard, finished with a team-high 14 points, including 12 in the second half.

Fairfax (8-2, 0-1) had two possessions following Hemlock's layup. But the Rebels missed a shot with 15.7 seconds left. Following a missed Langley free throw with 8.6 seconds remaining, the Rebels got the rebound but turned the ball over before they could get off a shot.

Langley improved to 7-2, 1-0.

"I thought 40 [points] would win it because I knew Fairfax plays such really good defense," Buffo said. "Once I saw they had beaten Jefferson by 36-31 [Tuesday], I figured we would have a similar game. I think the team was surprised when I told them 10 points per quarter would win it for us, but I was not too far off."

Initially, it looked like Buffo's estimate for points would be too high. The teams were tied at 12 at halftime. In the first half, Langley made 4 of 20 field goals (20 percent); Fairfax hit 6 of 23 (26 percent).

But both offenses were more effective late in the game, as Langley made 6 of 7 field goals in the fourth quarter and Fairfax hit seven of its 14 shots. The Rebels entered last night holding opponents to 37.2 points per game and have not given up more than 53 points in a game this season.

"Both defenses played great tonight, which is what we expected," Fairfax Coach Alice Pennix said. "Langley is the defending district champion and they know how to win those close games. We are hoping to get there soon."

But last night's game belonged to Langley and Hemlock. Hemlock made 5 of 6 field goals in the second half after missing all but one in the first half. On the game-winning play, Hemlock stole the ball from a Fairfax player at half court, then raced down the floor and made an uncontested layup.

"Tonight was definitely a defensive battle," said Hemlock, who averages about 14 points per game. "I was really surprised when [Buffo] told us it would take 40 points to win. She normally wants us to score around 15 per quarter. But she was right."

Notes: Fairfax was led by senior Susan Otim, who finished with 24 points. She also scored her 1,000th career point midway through the third quarter. Otim and junior Tiffany Young (nine points) combined to score all but four of the Rebels' points.