South Carroll Cavaliers fifth grade boys travel basketball team head coach Mike Foxwell and assistant Derek Owings were pretty confident coming into this Carroll County Basketball League season. All 12 of their fifth-graders had played on their fourth grade league champion team of last year.
And while they would have a rough road through Savage, they would indeed take that fifth grade championship. The Cavaliers clinched the title when they topped Savage, 42-34, in the championship game, March 15 at Finksburg's Gerstell Academy.
The coaches changed a few things for this year to prevent opponents from catching up with their playbook. They backed off some from their full court pressing tactics of last season and added some zone defenses.
And, they made sure their kids had ample opportunity to work on those new tactics. South Carroll played in the Columbia Ravens Winter Travel Basketball League. And rather than practice on Sundays, they entered a Sunday Loch Raven basketball loop over in Baltimore County.
Before any of that though, South Carroll traveled to Ellicott City for November's St. Michael's Turkey Kickoff Tournament.
They made it to the finals, but then met Savage for the first time and came out on the bruised end of a 35-17 score.
The Cavaliers played about .500 in Columbia and made it to the postseason semifinals, finishing fourth. Foxwell notes that the three teams that finished above his Cavaliers were all AAU squads.
However, they were utterly outclassed in Loch Raven where they won only once all season. His kids who are 10 and 11, played up in a 12-under division. Not only were many of their opponents older his players. They were also taller, stronger and more physical and athletic. Foxwell explained that their skills were also more polished as was their court awareness in many instances.
Many of the games were lopsided, although Foxwell says that things improved somewhat after the league was split into "A" and "B" divisions and his kids weren't forced to play against as many strong teams.As time went on, their coaches realized they had to scale down expectations.
"I told them they weren't there to win or lose but to get better. Going up against bigger and stronger kids makes them bigger and stronger," Foxwell explained.
And he feels they got that way.
"Our big guys learned to box out underneath and guards learned to see defenses better as they came up-court. [Players] also learned to square up and shoot more quickly. You don't get many easy shots [in Loch Raven]," Foxwell said.
The Carroll home cooking was a lot more pleasant though. South Carroll lost two early games to Savage but wound up going 9-2 and finishing second to the Howard Countains.And in each losing game, the locals came closer.
The Cavs depended on the fast break and transition points in their wins. But they were often stymied once the other team got back on defense.
"We had trouble against set defenses so in practice we worked on looking for the open shot.But then we ignored defense. We started scoring 45-50 points per game but then giving up 45-50 points," Foxwell said with laugh.
"We'd stopped focusing on defense, but that changed in the playoffs."
South Carroll opened its postseason on March 4 by pulling away from West Howard County Orange in the latter stages of the game to win, 50-38. The Cavaliers controlled the ball better in the second half; opponents were forced to foul, and the locals hit the foul shots.
The bench played a big role in the win as Tyler Brady and Jackson Dellamar came off the bench to help on ball control. Landon Bruce and Jimmy Rogers chipped in key rebounds. Cole Avery had some big steals and provided pressure defense.
The squad had won by only six points over third place West Howard County Black in the regular season, and Foxwell expected a tough time when he faced it in playoff game two. It turned out he was correct.
"We couldn't put them away. We'd get up by seven or eight points, but they'd get right back in the game," Foxwell recalled.
After jumping ahead, 28-21 at halftime, the locals survived a flurry of three-point shots in the second half and hung on at the end, 56-55.
Guard-forward Antonio Foxwell paced the winners with 17 points while point guard Noah Riley and center Luke Trotta each added eleven. Forward Ryan Addison added six crucial fourth quarter points, and guard Colby Owings had eight.
Evan Marcinko had some big rebounds while Drew Huber came in to play good defense and hit a basket.
The championship final saw the local kids attack their jinx team from Howard with a vengeance. They scored eight points before Savage scored one. The Cavs did fall behind by a point later in the half but then went ahead for good.
The key was the ability of their zone defenses to stop the top two Savage scorers.
Guards Owings and Riley did yeoman work in hounding their opposite numbers. The two Savage top guns would combine for only nine points the entire game, Riley also hit two 3-point shots in the second half to keep his team ahead.
Trotta paced the winners with 13 points and a lot of big rebounds.Foxwell had eight points. Addison had six points and rebounded well.
South Carroll gradually pulled away to win by eight points, the same margin they had opened the game with.
Foxwell, Addison and Trotta were also selected to play in the fifth grade division's all-star game which followed the championship final.
Mike Foxwell noted that, "this was a tough game. But the boys were happy because this completes the season for them."
He could already have a leg up on next season too, because all of his players are eligible to return and compete for the league's sixth grade crown.
Foxwell said also hopes to play in other leagues again, maybe even that really challenging one over in Loch Raven.
But next year's Carroll County Basketball League's sixth grade teams probably won't have to go nearly that far to find a challenge. South Carroll is a lot more convenient.