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A group of fourth-graders from Westminster may have started a winning basketball tradition for themselves. The newly formed team, in its first season of competition, has won the championship of the Carroll County Boys Basketball League's fourth-grade division.

After finishing second in the regular season, the youngsters swept three playoff games in March to take the title. They topped things off March 10 when they beat the Freedom "A" team 31-25 at Century High School in the championship game.

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This Westminster outfit was new to travel basketball this season, but it was not new as a team. Many of the boys had played together in the St. John church basketball program. Coach Michael Barrett and assistants John Compher and David Simmen had coached many of them since kindergarten.

They had a good showing at the team's tryout last fall — some 22 boys came out, and Barrett was pleased at the level of interest because it gave him a large pool to choose from. He felt the 10 players he kept were talented, but this would be different from that they were used to.

"I thought we'd be competitive, but we'd played in a rec program where you couldn't press and had to play a zone defense," Barrett said. "The Boys League's fourth-grade division didn't have those restrictions."

What's more, the Freedom team, which would be Westminster's big rival this season, played in the league's third-grade division last year. That division allowed pressing and man-to-mad defenses which meant that Freedom had a year's experience playing by the complete rules of basketball.

The Westminster coaches had to make up the experience gap in a hurry.

"We practiced five hours per week. The sessions were hard, and we had a detailed structure where each lesson built on the previous one. We coached them like a high school JV team, but they responded well," Barrett said. "The first things we taught them were to press and beat the press."

So they might learn their lessons more quickly, he entered his kids in three tournaments in order to harden them a bit. While they never finished above .500 and sometimes did much worse, their coach felt they benefited from the immersion into real basketball. He cited two games against a good team from Frederick as an example of their improvement.

"In the first tournament, they beat us by 20 or 30 points. In the third one, they beat us by only eight. The boys really improved as basketball players," Barrett said.

The team opened with an easy win, but then it lost to Freedom 37-35 in double overtime. Near the end of the season, Freedom would prevail for a second time, 30-27.

The South Carroll-based team used only six players. But they were talented kids who had played third-grade travel ball the year before. Barrett said he had to get 10 players into the game, and that his best ones couldn't always be on the court.

While his team's depth might have helped keep his top players fresher than Freedom's, it didn't help much.

Westminster became adept at the press, and that worked on all the teams but Freedom. Westminster would roll up a lot of points as a result of the its tactics.

Most of Westminster's wins were lopsided. All of the victories came by 12 points or more; one was by 40. The regular season ended with Westminster going 8-2, good for second place in the eight-team league. Freedom finished 10-0.

Westminster rolled in its first playoff game March 3 at South Carroll High, ripping the home team 50-22.

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Game 2 saw Westminster beat North Carroll 47-15. Braeden Palazzo had a game-high 12 points, and Nick Compher added 10 for the winners.

Now, it faced Freedom for the league championship. Meanwhile, Freedom had beaten Gamber and Mount Airy in its first two games. And, it was ready to go.

Barrett had several strategies he hoped would be winners for his team.

"We tried to get them into foul trouble, but that wasn't successful. We also put our best defenders on their best scorers," the coach said.

That second strategy did work. In fact, young Palazzo held his man scoreless in the championship game, Barrett said.

The game started slowly, as the defenses dominated. Things picked up after intermission when the kids began to find the range. Westminster pulled into a more comfortable lead during that stretch.

However disaster nearly struck for Westminster when point guard Brandon Barrett fouled out. The loss of Barrett and his ability to handle the ball and pass it slowed the team's offense. Freedom began coming back.

However, late in the game it still trailed. Freedom had to foul in order to regain possession, and that proved its undoing.

Carter Simmen and Drew Harris, who each had six points to lead Westminster, hit clutch free throws in the final moments to preserve their team's advantage. Barrett breathed a sigh of relief.

"If they would have had more time, they would have eaten into our lead a lot more. But fortunately, the clock ran out," he said.

The coach was gratified that the kids who had put in so much effort during the season could see it pay off.



sports@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7896

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