Gamber Hornets travel basketball coach Matt Baccala says, “We always want the boys to be competitive and to put in the effort. Then let the score falls where it falls."
Trouble is, that score always seemed to fall the wrong way in recent years when the big games rolled around.
But the outcome of last weekend’s Holiday on the Hill Tournament at McDaniel College, may signal a change of the wind.
Baccala’s Gamber team swept four games to win the tournament’s seventh-grade boys championship.
His Hornets, which have played together since the fourth grade, won that holiday tournament as fifth graders two years ago. But since then, things had seemed to go afoul whenever the chips were down.
They had a shot at the sixth grade tournament title last December when they made it to the championship game. But it snowed.
They’ve also done well in the Carroll County Basketball League’s regular season — that is, until the playoffs arrived. Two years ago in the fifth-grade semifinal, Freedom beat Gamber on a 30-foot shot in the final second.
Freedom victimized the Hornets again last March, this time in the sixth grade division championship game. It delivered a demoralizing blow by beating them in triple overtime.
These misfortunes aside, Baccala has been happy with his kids' play. They play hard, and they play well. When they lose, it's close.
"Our games are always competitive," he noted.
This past summer, he did very well on the AAU basketball circuit. Baccala said Gamber won roughly two-thirds of its 30 games, and that even included a couple of tournament championships and a runner-up finish.
Perhaps things were starting to change.
The coach and his assistants, Joel Levin and John Hedrick, felt confident about their team's prospects coming into last weekend's tournament. The squad had gone 8-3 in last year's regular season, and all 11 of his players had returned for the third consecutive year.
“I thought we’d make it to the championships,” Baccala said.
The Hornets’ first two games, Dec. 28, were easy wins. The first was a 61-25 victory over the Howard County-based Sting team.
The team had balanced scoring as buckets from Will Cuneo, Luke Sudo, Grayson Bradley and Jackson Hedrick got the team off to a good start.
Gamber beat Lutherville-Timonium 55-18 later in the day as the team against used balanced scoring to advantage. Cuneo and Kyle Hoot hit early shots to give Gamber the lead.
Sam Wivell led a strong team defensive effort.
They faced an aggressive South Carroll team in their third tournament game, Dec. 29, but their coach felt his guys weren’t quite up to snuff in the early going.
“We didn’t have as much energy as we could have,” Baccala said. “They out-worked and out-hustled us in the first half. We had to work hard in the second half to match them.”
That would pay off on the court.
“In the second half, we stopped their penetration, and we made some shots that we’d missed in the first half," Baccala noted.
Gamber beat South Carroll 40-28.
Sudo, Vince Baccala, and Chase Baccala each had nine points, and Bradley had seven. Hoot, Hedrick, and Wivell each had multiple assists and provided a defensive spark.
This time they didn’t falter in the championship game.But it was still a tough one against Elkridge which had beaten Gamber in a Carroll County Basketball League game a few weeks ago.
The final proved to be a game of streaks early on.
Gamber shot out to a 7-2 lead, but Elklridge came back with a 12-2 run to pull ahead 14-9.
After a timeout, Gamber surged and climaxed its rally with Vince Baccala’s 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to put it ahead 33-26.
In the second half, the Hornets used their height advantage and began getting the rebounds. However, Elkridge had narrowed the Hornets’ lead to 40-37 midway through the half.
Gamber then went on another streak, this a 14-2 stretch, to put the game away.
Chase Baccala, who had a game-high 28 points, hit four 3-point shots during that stretch. Wivell had the other two points and Hedrick notched a couple of assists.
The game ended with a bang on a 3 point play by Sudo and Bradley’s outside jumper.
Gamber won 60-47.
In addition go his game-high scoring, Chase Baccala also had five assists. Sudo had 11 points and seven rebounds while Vince Baccala had eight points and nine assists.
The victory and championship were even more satisfying because three of Gamber’s players, Joseph Levin, Brendan Luddy and Owen Luddy were unable to compete in the tournament.
However, Matt Baccala said he expects them to be key contributors this season.
“We are excited,” he said.. “They have been together for a long time, and to be able to win this was very exciting. I’m hoping we can ride this into the season.”