HAMPSTEAD - Coach Dan Martin fondly recalls leading his Hampstead team to the Carroll County Boys' Basketball League B Division title two years ago.
Now, those youngsters are reunited again in the league's A division, and Martin hopes they can do it again.
Sunday at North Carroll Middle School, his aggregation of 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds took their first step in that direction when they held off a determined Woodbine squad, 44-35, to win the league's A division holiday tournament.
The Lions won it in the final three minutes when they outscored the Rebels, 11-0.
But before making like a seasoned thoroughbred who cruises away from the field in the race's final moments, Hampstead had all it could handle.
The relatively inexperienced Rebels, relying almost entirely on the scoring of center Jason Harrich (a game-high 22 points), had clawed back from a 10-point deficit and pulled ahead, 35-33, on two Harrich free throws with 3:08 remaining.
But Hampstead guard John Wingeart tied it with a jumper, Chris Turnbaugh's bank shot put Hampstead back in front, and Wingeart then clinched it with six free throws down the stretch.
The contest matched vastly different teams.
The Lions, loaded with veterans from their 1988 championship team, had speed, height and backcourt strength.
Woodbine, which represented Mount Airy in 1989, terrorized the A division last year, winning the loop's holiday, regular-season, and post-season titles.
But this year's Woodbine 11-man roster is only a shadow of last year's.
It lacks height and its six new players have played little organized basketball.
Two of these are starters.
"New team. New experience," said Woodbine Coach Ron Gwyn.
Still, his team made its way to the tourney finals, winning three games.
One was a 36-32 verdict over St. Joseph's, a traditionally strong team.
Hampstead, which barely survived a 34-33 struggle against Gamber-Smallwood in its opener, beat North Carroll and Winfield to make it to the championships.
In that finale, it made good use of its height and outside shooting. The Lions hit eight of their first 15 shots to forge a 23-13 lead late in the second quarter.
During that time, tall front-liners Turnbaugh, Brian Cutair, and Jason Quenzer dominated the offensive and defensive boards.
Were it not for Harrich's fall-away and turn-around jumpers, this one might have been over early.
But late in the second quarter Hampstead went cold, possibly as a result of some changed Woodbine defensive wrinkles.
Gwyn switched Harrich, his tallest player, from the middle on defense, to a position beneath the basket to block out the aggressive Lions and get rebounds.
"We also tightened up our zone and took a chance on giving them the outside shots. We hadn't done well on the boards," said Gwyn.
The strategy worked.
Hampstead missed 12 consecutive shots, and Woodbine ran off 13 consecutive points.
And Harrich stayed hot. He hit three consecutive short jumpers to start the second half, tying the game at 23-23.
Brandon Dorsey, whose eight points were second on his team to Harrich's, then put the Rebels on top with a free throw with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Then Hampstead guard Darren Martin, whose 14 points were second on the team to Wingeart's 19, hit a jumper to put Hampstead back on top.
But three Rebel free throws, two resulting from a technical foul on a vociferous Lion fan, and a Brian Pickett shot put Woodbine ahead, 31-27, at the end of the third quarter.
The final stanza, though, belonged to Hampstead as it outscored Woodbine, 17-4, led by Wingeart's 11 points.
To make matters worse for Woodbine, Harrich stopped hitting and nobody took up the slack.
The Rebels were 1-for-8 from the field in that final stanza, and missed their final seven shots.
Gwyn said more players have to score in order to give his team balance.
"We need to be more aggressive and move the ball toward the basket," he said.
Talking after the game, Martin both recalled and looked ahead.
He expressed surprise at the evenness of the teams he saw at North Carroll Middle.
"In this tournament there were a lot of one- to three-point (final margin) games. You just hope you got the one to three points," the Hampstead coach said with a laugh.
In the consolation game for third place, Winfield edged Westminster 51-45.
Winfield was led by Tommy Luster, who had 17 points, while Guy Robertson added 15 for the winners. Jason Nusbaum led Westminster with 17 points.