Mark Golberg, who coaches the Carroll County High School Boys Basketball League's Dark Gray team, had a very high opinion of his squad and its chances before this seasoned.
First of all, five players were back from last year’s second-place Boys Basketball League team.
He felt that these boys plus three new ones, all eight of whom attend Westminster High, could compete with most high school basketball varsities in the county despite the fact that none had played in a year or two. But most had played at least some freshman or junior varsity basketball.
Seven of the eight were Westminster varsity football players, and one played junior varsity. A few also wrestled for the Owls. In other ways, they were a physically imposing lot.
“All of them play football or wrestle, and the five seniors will play college football this fall. The team has multi-sport athletes, high level athletes,” Golberg said.
However, these guys weren’t just a bunch of muscle-bound gorillas. It turned out that those athletic skills of theirs were readily transferable to basketball.
Dark Gray never lost a game. The kids won all six regular-season contests and then took their two postseason tournament games March 4 at East Middle School.
They wrapped things up with a 50-45 championship game win over Royal Blue, which was second behind Gray during the regular season.
Golberg felt that many of his kids could have played varsity basketball instead of playing for his rec team. However he explained that they didn’t want to make the time commitment varsity ball required and wanted more playing time than they might have gotten as varsity members.
Five were seniors, and he said that they wanted to play together one final time and have fun in a non-pressure environment before moving on.
Their coach quickly found that his players knew their basketball despite their recent concentration on other sports. He learned early on to give them their lead.
“About the third game, I realized that these guys had all played (basketball) before, and they all knew how the game was played at the high school level,” Golberg said. “I just let these guys play their game.”
Golberg says that Dark Gray cruised through the regular season, generally winning its games by easy margins. However, the playoffs would be a lot tighter.
Dark Gray team played its semifinal game against Light Gray which had finished in the middle of the pack in the 12-team loop during the regular season.
Light Gray 18-15 at intermission and would have led by more if Dark Gray’s Jeremy Golberg hadn’t hit two 3-point shots near halftime.
Early in the third quarter, things were still nip-and-tuck. The coach called time out to talk things over. The kids wanted to switch to a man-to-man defense, and Golberg went along.
Right about that time, Dark Gray’s Roman Hawkins broke away for a slam dunk, and ”that changed the momentum. That kicked up into another gear, and we never looked back,” Golberg said.
The final score was 34-30.
Chase Birdow led the winners with 10 points, and Hawkins had eight. Tavian Montgomery and Aaron Golberg each added seven.
The final was against a team of Liberty High School players, and Dark Gray’s coach said his players had some extra incentive to win that game. They had beaten Liberty as members of the Westminster High varsity football team, and they weren’t about to lose to them in basketball.
Dark Gray was cruising early though, and it was running and gunning. Golberg’s crew led 28-19 at halftime.
“But midway in the second half, they cut our lead from 12 to two, and I called timeout,” Golberg said. ”I asked the boys what they wanted to do on defense and offense. It was unanimous. They wanted to play man-to-man.”
The idea was to hold down Royal Blue guards Chris Darminio, who had a game-high 17 points, and Sean Kirker who scored 11. They also wanted the offense to work more inside than it had.
The team went to man defense and slowed Royal Blue’s outside shooting.