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Two very unlikely opponents were on court March 5 at Oklahoma Road Middle School for the Carroll County Girls' Travel Basketball League's 7th-8th grade division championship game.

LaTonya Hardy's Westminster Storm team had a regular-season record of just 4-4, and its opponent, the North Carroll Chargers coached by Jen Carroll, were only 3-5. Yet when their league championship was being decided that evening, those with the fancier records had been left behind.

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And that evening, North Carroll topped Westminster 31-23 for the divisional championship. It was the second straight title for the Chargers who won the 6th grade division the year before.

Since there weren’t enough seventh graders to fill an all-7th grade league, the 7th grade Chargers had to play in a league with 8th grade squads this year. Yet Carroll felt upbeat as the season began.

“I was pretty confident about this season,” Carroll said. “We’d ended last season on a good note. I had six of those eight girls back, and we added two good girls.”

However, things didn’t start well and the team, facing older opponents, lost its first couple of games. It would win only the three. Hardy was coaching for the first time in the Carroll County loop, but she was already familiar with a lot of her girls. A number of them had played for her AAU team of the previous year. So Hardy knew what they could do and felt they would do it well. But things turned out a little rough for her team of eighth graders.

They lost their first two games and couldn’t reach the .500 mark until the final game of the regular season when they topped unbeaten, first place Reisterstown.

That victory though, was a biggie.

“Reisterstown was undefeated, and beating them in the final game ended our season on a good note,” Hardy said.

North Carroll also ended the regular season happily by winning its final game. Carroll felt her team improved over the course of the year even though that improvement wasn’t evident in its final record.

“We had a roller-coaster season. We had good moments and not-so-good moments until late in the season when we played a lot better,” Carroll said.

However, the North Carroll coach wasn’t optimistic about her team’s postseason chances this time despite its improvement and the fact that it had been a champion the year before.

The Chargers were inconsistent this season, and a sloppy game in the playoffs could send them home.

“I was nervous after the way the season had gone,” Carroll said. “We had a talented team, but I was never sure which team would show up.”

Her team opened against the WHC Force which had mauled it by 21 points in their regular season meeting. However her “good team” showed up for this one and took the lead at halftime. The Howard County squad put on the pressure and came back after intermission. However, it never quite caught up.

WHC missed a game-tying shot at the end, and North Carroll hung on to win 35-33.

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Guard Ella Bonney played good defense and hit some key shots for the winners while teammate Aubrey Chopper also played well on defense and helped with the rebounding.

The Chargers came out strong in game two, pulling to a 10-point lead over HYCP, the second place regular season finisher. It held that Howard County team off late in the game to win 24-22.

Carmaya Bowman put back some key rebound baskets for the winners. Point guard Casey Meredith dished out key assists and helped break HYCP’s press. She also got several fast break layups. Those two girls were also their team’s leading scorers.

Meanwhile, Westminster was keeping pace.

The Storm opened its playoff run on Feb. 25 with a high-scoring 50-48 win over Attitude. Point guard Hannah Bowman and a spectacular shooting game, hitting five 3-point shots and leading Westminster with 25 points. A couple of those 3-pointers came in the game’s tense final minutes. Forward Elizabeth Kiley played well defensively and got a number of rebounds for the winners. In game 2, they topped Reisterstown, which beat it in the regular season.

Westminster roared off to a big 15-point lead early on, and it held Reisterstown off the rest of the way to win 32-22. Forward Camryn Racine paced the winners with 11 points, and guard Emma Doan added nine. Hardy had an explanation for her players’ sudden improvement which had seen them win their last four games.

But their momentum carried only through the early stages of the championship game with North Carroll.In the final, Westminster jumped to an 11-6 first-quarter lead, but North Carroll wiped out that lead in the second quarter.

“We hit some 3s that brought us back, and we had a strong second quarter. We led 20-16 at halftime, and they never caught up,” Carroll said.

Chopper led her team with 11 points and Bonney added eight. Kirra Coufal was strong on the boards and added some key rebounding. Racine’s seven points led Westminster, and Kiley added six.

Carroll was both happy and relieved that her team picked the playoffs to right itself.

“I kidded the girls that we must be a playoff team because that’s when we began to play well,” Carroll said. “And they earned it. It was great to see them come together at a time when it actually mattered.”

She warned her girls that such a comeback might not be so easy next year when they are playing all-eighth grade competition. She said they will need to maintain their championship level of play from the start, something they weren’t able to do this year.

“The girls have to realize that their good play will have to carry over into the regular season,” she said.

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