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Boys Basketball: Owls charge ahead for first win of season

Westminster senior forward Tate Seibel had a choice to make.

With talented Liberty forward David Downs dribbling right at him, Seibel could either get out of the way or stand his ground.

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He chose to stand his ground. Downs collided with Seibel, who crashed to the floor with a thud. The referee called a charge, one of many pivotal defensive stops in Westminster's 47-37 win over Liberty in the Liberty Division consolation game of the Liberty Holiday Tournament.

The Owls had a 13-point lead after three quarters, and Seibel wasn't about to let Downs get an easy basket early in the fourth quarter. Not with Westminster's first win of the season just a quarter away. Not with Westminster coach Brett Kanther offering encouragement from the sideline. Not with the Owls reserves cheering every positive play.

"I've taken enough charges this year to know that it's a huge momentum shift," said Seibel, the last player out of a jubilant Westminster locker room.

The Owls (1-7) have struggled through a difficult start. Senior leader Gianni Pescetto separated his shoulder in the season's first game. He's been forced to watch from the bench while the Owls played a difficult schedule that included county front-runner Winters Mill and reigning Class 3A state champion Centennial.

"We're a very good one-win team," said Kanther, who praised his players for playing unselfish, working hard and fighting through a difficult stretch of the season.

The Owls played mostly zone defense against Liberty, and it worked. The Lions shot just 2-of-26 from 3-point range. Downs hit Liberty's first 3-pointer of the game with 21 seconds left. By that point, the Lions were trailing by 11 and the game was already decided.

"Not shooting well didn't help," Liberty coach Brian Tombs said. "But when that happens, you need to find other ways to score."

The shooting performance was uncharacteristic for the Lions, who boast three players shooting greater than 35 percent from 3-point range.

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Meanwhile, the Owls were able to convert just enough. Junior Noah Westbrook had a game-high 16 points, including a rare four-point play that gave Westminster a 20-14 lead midway through the second quarter.

Seibel had 12 points and six rebounds. He also ran the offense unselfishly from his position in the post, passing to slashing guards for easy layups. Ten different Westminster players scored, with Kanther frequently substituting players.

Downs had 14 points for Liberty, the only player on the team with double figures.

The Lions are off until 2016 and will host North Carroll on Jan. 5. Liberty still has to face Westminster two more times in the regular season.

The Owls did not trail in the second half and left the Liberty gymnasium upbeat. Westminster is expecting to have Pescetto back for its next game, a home showdown against Manchester Valley Jan. 5.

Seibel said several players have gotten additional playing time in Pescetto's absence, which should help the team's interior depth going forward.

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"They will be prepared if [Pescetto] or I get into foul trouble," he said.

Even though Liberty (3-5) lost both of its tourney games, Tombs said he was happy with how well the third annual Liberty Holiday Tournament went overall. This year's event featured eight teams, including three that made the state semifinals last year.

This was the second year the tourney featured eight teams. Previously, the tournament had four. But if Tombs has it his way, future editions will also have eight programs.

"I don't mind putting in the extra work," he said. "It's great for the community."

Westminster (47): Noah Westbrook 16, Tate Seibel 12, Brady Meixsell 4, Joey Conklin 4, Justin Buberl 3, Parker Eysaman 3, Kenton Vanderwoude 2, Jahmere Campbell 2, Tyler Snyder 1.

Liberty (37): David Downs 14, Nick Tilson 8, Justin Brookhart 6, Jarrett Pfeifer 5, Jack Selby 2, Steven Goetz 2.

Halftime: Westminster, 22-16.

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