WESTMINSTER — A traveling call nullified Gamber-Smallwood's opening basket in Saturday morning's game with Woodbine at West Middle School.
But that's one of the few mistakes Gamber would make.
The undefeated Gators, first in the Carroll County Boys Basketball League's B division, rolled over Woodbine, 55-19. The 8-0 Gators lead second-place Westminster by a game with two to play.
But regardless of the outcome and the subsequent post-season tournament that determines the official Boys League champions, 1991 has been a storybook year for this group of fifth and sixth graders.
Gamber B team coach Jeff Sprinkle, though, had a pretty good idea how this particularstory would go even before he opened the book.
His entire starting five from last year was returning -- older, more experienced, and in the case of center Steven Flora, about 4 inches taller.
"I couldn't wait for the season to start," Sprinkle said.
His Gators instantly validated their coach's confidence by sweeping four games to winthe league's B division Holiday Tournament in December.
They thendove into the schedule, knocking off one opponent after another. Buteven Sprinkle may have had lingering doubts until a few weeks ago, when they visited perennial power St. Joseph's in Eldersburg.
"I don't think we'd ever beaten a St. Joseph's team. I know we've never beaten them there," said Sprinkle. "Beating St. Joseph's made me realize how good we were."
It almost figured that Saturday's game with Woodbine, a struggling first-year team, wouldn't be close, and it wasn't.
Gamber, with Flora, Jeremiah Webb and Justin Geiman easily controlling both boards against the smaller Rebels, hit eight of their first 12 shots and roared to a 16-3 lead late in the first quarter.
Woodbine fought back with baskets by Aaron Dorsey, who led his team with seven points, and Jason Harrison to close to 18-10.
But Gamber lengthened the lead to 26-13 at the half.
Then Flora, Geiman andWebb, who led the Gators with 17, 10 and 10 points, respectively, took up where they'd left off at halftime.
The three spearheaded a 31-4 spurt which had begun midway through the first half to turn the game into a 49-14 rout by the end of the third quarter.
But Sprinkle had nothing but praise for the spunk of a plucky Woodbine squad, with only a few players who had organized basketball experience before this season.
"They're small but they're quick, and they didn't give up," Sprinkle said.
Sprinkle credits his team's success to cohesion from playing together and scoring balance that comes from unselfish play.
"Nobody worries about who scores," he said. "Nine playersscored today. We're totally balanced. Nobody ever knows who will be high man for the game."
His own defense is always a man-to-man.
"I try to keep it simple," he said.
But that deceptive simplicityhas nevertheless baffled this year's opponents, who generally have failed to hit the 20-point mark in games against the Gators, Sprinkle said.
Sprinkle credits his assistant, former Westminster High girls basketball coach Dick Ebersole, "our X's and O's man," for much of his team's near-flawless execution on the floor.
His wife, Diane, also helps with the team.
And then there are the cheerleaders, whoput on an impressive display at halftime.
"They are as dedicated as the boys are," said Sprinkle of the two girls troops that support the Gamber A and B teams.
Sprinkle feels the team, which is probably the best Gamber-Smallwood squad in memory, is attracting notice.
"A lot of folks come up to us and comment about it (the team). People are really following it," the Gamber coach said. "For Diane and I,it's a pleasure to (coach) it."