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The Gamber Hornets seventh-grade travel basketball team recently took first place at the Holiday on the Hill tournament at McDaniel College. Back Row, left to right: Assistant coach Jeff Baldwin, Mark Chatkin, Coach Ken Crilly. Third row: Cameron Crlly, Everett Costley, Jonny Cool, Grady Baldwin. Second row from front: Zack Johnson, Peyton Thomas, Hunter Williams. Front row: Jaeden Heiser, Myles Johnson.
The Gamber Hornets seventh-grade travel basketball team recently took first place at the Holiday on the Hill tournament at McDaniel College. Back Row, left to right: Assistant coach Jeff Baldwin, Mark Chatkin, Coach Ken Crilly. Third row: Cameron Crlly, Everett Costley, Jonny Cool, Grady Baldwin. Second row from front: Zack Johnson, Peyton Thomas, Hunter Williams. Front row: Jaeden Heiser, Myles Johnson. (Submitted photo)

Ken Crilly had never won a championship in his two years of coaching his Gamber Hornets travel basketball team. Their two seasons as fifth and then sixth graders in the Carroll County Boys Basketball League had ended around .500. The Hornets were then quickly ejected in the postseason. Their holiday tournament appearances had been little better.

But there must have been a little bit of Christmas magic lingering at the McDaniel College's Gill Center a couple of weeks ago. Gamber swept four games to win the seventh-grade boys championship in the Holiday on the Hill tournament.

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Seven players from last year's team and three newcomers greeted Crilly at his first practice. He found right away that he had some pretty quick players who could handle the ball.

Crilly and assistant coach Jeff Baldwin's job was to mold them.

"We tried to teach a team approach. We wanted a balanced attack that had multiple kids scoring," Crilly said.

Besides teaching his players to perform as a team, Crilly had another goal. He wanted to win a championship. Gamber had come close in the Holiday on the Hill tourney a couple of years before, but the Hornets lost in the finals.

"We really wanted to get back to the championship game," he said.

This year's Holiday on the Hill tournament was played Dec. 28-29. Each of the two four-team seventh grade brackets had its own championship; the two winners didn't play.

Gamber led all the way to beat Mount Airy 35-17 in the opening game.

"We had good defense. They struggled against our press, and we got some turnovers that were turned into easy buckets," Crilly said.

Grady Baldwin had seven points for the winners and Hunter Williams, six. Peyton Thomas, one of the newcomers to the team, had three steals and played a good defensive game.

Gamber broke an 18-18 halftime tie to beat Westminster 41-30 in Game 2.

"We scored the first 12 points of the second half. For about four or five minutes, we really took charge," Crilly said.

Johnny Cool, who plays guard and forward for Gamber, is both the tallest and quickest player on the team. Those attributes helped him to a big all-around game. He had three steals, four points, five assists and a team-leading nine rebounds. Forward-center Mark Chatkin paced Gamber with 12 points.

Game 3 was a blowout of North Carroll 48-18.

Guard Zack Johnson and Cool led the team with nine points apiece. Johnson added two steals and two assists while Cool added nine rebounds and five steals. Forward Myles Johnson also played an excellent all-around game with five points, four rebounds and two assists.

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The Hornets were now 3-0 with the championship game yet to play. Two years ago, the Hornets also won their first three holiday tournament games but then lost the championship game. This time, it was different.

Gamber continued its dominance in the fourth and final game and to nail down the title.

It led by around six points most of the game before pulling away late to win, 48-37. Chatkin led Gamber with 10 points while Cool had nine points, nine rebounds and four assists. Guard Jaeden Heiser also had nine points plus four steals. Cameron Crilly had four points, two rebounds and two assists while Everett Costley had five points, four rebounds and a fine defensive game for Gamber.

"It was a lot of fun. The kids were really excited to win, and I was very happy for them," Crilly said.

He noted that Gamber had a consistent, balanced attack throughout the four games, and credits that consistency for the team's championship.

"We had three different leading scorers in the four games, and at least eight kids scored in each game. Every kid scored in the tournament," he said.

"The biggest thing is our team approach. We have 10 players who always hustle and play hard. We have a couple of kids who are really good athletes who can cover a lot of ground," he added.

"We are good at pressing and making a team play fast. When we get a team to play fast, we play better because we have three or four good ball handlers. The kids are versatile; they can all dribble the ball."

Now with his first championship as a Carroll County Boys Basketball League coach in hand, Crilly looks confidently ahead.

"They are a good group of kids who are very receptive to playing basketball the right way," he said. "I'm looking forward to this season."

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