There's a lot of pressure on a coach who expects his team to be in the championship game before the season starts.
But that's the way Tim Whitehead viewed his Mid-Atlantic Legacy squad that played in the Carroll County Girls Travel Basketball League's seventh-grade division this season.
Legacy is a girls club basketball program that operates out of the Westminster area.
“We expect them to learn before they win,” Whitehead said. “I had watched them and knew what they had learned. I expected them to win.”
Turns out he viewed it correctly — Legacy played in that championship game, and won it.
In efforts to provide its players the best possible competition, Legacy often puts its Carroll County Girls Basketball League teams in the next highest age bracket.
That was pretty much done here too. Six of Whitehead's players were sixth graders and only four were seventh graders. However, Whitehead and assistant coaches Doug Reaves, Scott Kohr and Stephanie McCarthy nevertheless felt their hybrid group could handle the older competition.
It blew through the regular season with a 10-0 mark and finished first by three games over second-place North Carroll. Many of Legacy’s games were fairly easy wins. However, it ran up against a tough Freedom team in the ninth game.
Freedom, which had only one loss at the time, was not so easy and put up a tenacious battle. Legacy eked out a 21-20 victory to stay undefeated.
"We were off a little, and that game showed us that we could be off a little and still win,” Whitehead said. “That game made our team.”
Legacy’s coach credited his team's success to a combination of coolness under pressure, discipline and talent.
"They were scrappy and defense-minded,” he said. “We have 10 girls who love to play defense.”
His kids could also put the ball in the hoop, even though his was not a tall team.
Once the playoffs started, his girls didn't miss a beat. As the No. 1 seed, Legacy didn't have to play in the opening round of the league playoffs.
It faced Glenwood Middle School in its second-round playoff game and won 37-13, a score similar to the 39-12 final of their regular-season game played several weeks before.
However the game was harder than it looked because Legacy started slowly and had to rely on strong rebounding and defense to pull it out. But once things came together, the regular season winners pulled away.
Summer Brooks' 10 points led all scorers; Abby Rieger and Sophie Kelly each had eight. McKenna Lanza and Kaelyn Morton came off the bench to score four and three points.
Sam Smith led Legacy in rebounding. Maddy Gassman and Rieger led the team in steals. Emma Reaves choked off the lane, forcing Glenwood to shoot from the outside.
And generally it wasn't too successful from afar.
While Legacy had started that semifinal game slowly, it did the exact opposite in the championship game against North Carroll.
Legacy came out with a pressure defense, and it showed on the scoreboard right away.
Rieger and Gassman had steals and got the ball to Kelly who hit several lay-ups and jump shots. Brooks hit two long 3-pointers to cap a big opening rally.
North Carroll did rally to cut the lead to 18-9, but Legacy regained control in the second half and rolled on to a 38-21 win, clinching the championship. North Carroll continued to battle right down to the end.
Brooks again led all scorers, this time with 12 points, and Kelly again added eight. Gillian Blubaugh, back after being injured in the semifinal, added four points and led the team in rebounds.
Reaves played a strong defensive game inside, as did Jordan Mattingly.
Legacy was without injured Caroline Kohr, but Gaby McCarthy, came back from a broken wrist that sidelined her for three weeks to score two points and add two assists.
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“For the girls, it was sheer elation,” Whitehead said. “They lost in the final last year, and this year they won it. They got revenge.”