They also played in the Loyola-Blakefield loop's sixth grade division this winter. After six games, they were — you guessed it — 3-3 and .500.
But the kids got tired of being “around .500.”
They up and moved to a different neighborhood. After splitting their first six Loyola-Blakefield games this winter, they never lost another one. Freedom swept their final four games in the league to finish 7-3. Then, Freedom swept three Feb. 23-24 playoff games to win the Loyola-Blakefield sixth grade championship.
Clark said he was seeing some subtle improvements in both players and play over the past year even though their record didn't reflect it.
Loyola's winter league would be their chance to prove it because thew loop was competitive. The teams in that loop come from Harford, Howard, and Baltimore counties for the most part. All games were played Saturdays at Loyola.
Clark believed his team would do well, but he had no idea of winning a championship. There were simply too many strong teams, he said.
They opened with three wins, one of which came against Harford County-based Emmortion which was second at the time. However, things then went south for awhile as Freedom dropped three in a row to square its record at 3-3. Then it recovered in the final four games.
Clark felt his team had improved over the course of its up and down regular season, particularly when it had the ball.
“They were starting to understand when to shoot the ball and when to make the next pass,” Clark said. “They learned to hit the open man, and it got contagious.”
He also said its man-to-man defense had also improved a lot. In fact, he would use it almost exclusively throughout the playoffs.
The opening game was an easy 52-20 win over the Columbia Ravens “B” team. Guard Colin Clevenger paced Freedom with 11 points, and Nick Baron added 10. Austin Schulze led in defensive rebounds with three, and Scott Grabau had six rebounds, including four on offense.
Point guard Justin Asiedu did an excellent job controlling the offense and got several steals. Game 2 against Towsontowne was tougher.
“We didn't play them during the regular season,” Clark said. “But the things that got us going were our man defense and press. That really got them out of their rhythm and affected them pretty good.”
Clevenger's eight points paced the victors, and Daniel Riley added six. Forwards Grabau and Brady Clark controlled the boards and played sound defense.
Point guard Christian Szarko played strong defense and passed the ball well.
Game 3 — the championship tilt — came against Hereford, an opponent that had beaten Freedom in its regular-season game. Hereford had hurt Freedom with its 3-point shooting in that one, and Clark said he was sticking with a man-to-man in the final to cut off the open shots.
That game was close throughout and went down to the wire. Ryan Bauer had two key baskets to keep Freedom in the hunt late in the game.
However, it was finally decided by a 3-pointer that was and another that wasn't. Baron hit a 3 with 30 seconds to play and tied the game at 24-24. Riley, who had hit two 3s earlier, then swatted down an attempt for a game-tying 3-point shot as the clock ran out.
The final was 27-24, and Freedom was the champion.
“I was proud of the kids,” Clark said. “They worked so hard. Having them for five years, it's nice to see them end on a win for once.”
He looks forward to a couple of more years with those youngsters before they go on their separate ways to various high schools. He believes this championship will give them a boost coming into next season.