In all their years at the school, the seniors on the No. 12 Damascus girls’ basketball team had never faced the third-ranked Paint Branch Panthers. So entering Saturday night’s game between two of the best teams in Montgomery County, senior forward Kelli Prange didn’t really know what to expect.

“We’d never played them,” she said. “From freshman year until now.”

The last time the two teams met, in March 2009, the Panthers won by more than 40 points and later moved up a classification, from 3A to 4A. But Saturday night’s game unfolded a little bit differently.

The Swarmin’ Hornets jumped out to a fast start in the first quarter and knocked down several clutch free throws late to upset No. 3 Paint Branch, 67-58. Prange notched a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while classmate Lauren Green led all scorers with 24.

“We knew coming in that Paint Branch was going to be a good team, and they were a very tough team,” Green said. “Their guards are definitely a match for our guards, so our plan was to pound it inside. And that worked pretty well.”

The Panthers (7-1) entered Saturday night as the county’s top team, and they had won each of their first seven games by an average of 30 points. But they immediately found themselves in a tight, back-and-forth game against Damascus (8-2), which returned four starters from a team that last year reached the Maryland 3A state semifinals.

The Swarmin’ Hornets seized control from the opening tip as they needed only one pass and two dribbles to get on the board. The opening basket sparked an early 8-3 run, and Damascus led 17-10 at the end of the first quarter.

But Paint Branch, led by senior Kiara Colston (16 points) and junior Daisa Harris (14), would not go away quietly. The Panthers quickly tied the game with a 7-0 run at the beginning of the second quarter and knotted the game at halftime. But that’s when Damascus refined its philosophy.

“What we said in the locker room is that we just need to keep pounding it inside,” Prange said. “They don’t really have a big inside to stop me.”

That plan unfolded down the stretch, as Prange collected rebound after rebound, several of which resulted in easy putbacks. Altogether, the Swarmin’ Hornets outrebounded the Panthers, 42-26.

Trailing by multiple possessions late in the fourth quarter, Paint Branch was forced to foul. This not only gave the Swarmin’ Hornets easy points but also slowed down the Panthers’ most potent offensive attack: the transition game.

“It was fourth-quarter foul shooting,” Damascus Coach Steve Pisarski said. “We were 16 for 18 in the fourth quarter, which means we were scoring almost every possession. It also means we were slowing them down. By going to the foul line, they can’t get out on the break and do all the things they want to do.”