Westport PAL Basketball’s “All About the Kids” Round-Up (Championship Preview)

By: Contributing PAL Parents and Players

All eight of the Westport PAL travel basketball teams entered last weekend’s playoffs with championship aspirations.  Three teams successfully navigated the weekend to make it to championship games next Saturday (3/9).

5G, 5B, 6G, 7G and 7B battled valiantly but saw their season’s end, while 6B, 8G and 8B advanced and will prepare this week for the tremendous opportunity to finish a season with a win.

Westport PAL 6B

2013 FCBL 6B finalists - Westport PAL 6B

Coach Shuan Malone and the Westport PAL 6B boys entered the FCBL playoffs on a three game losing streak but confident in their ability to battle any opponent.

Short memories and a week of playoff preparations had 6B ready to get on a winning streak last Saturday (3/2), when it took on St. Marks-Stratford in the quarter-finals of the single elimination FCBL tournament.  In a back and forth battle that had the teams closely contesting each other throughout, 6B made the plays down the stretch to cement a solid five point victory (46-41), earning the right to move on to the semi-finals on Sunday (3/3).  In the semi-finals against Ridgefield, 6B played one of its most complete games of the season, contesting every Ridgefield shot while running Coach Malone’s offensive sets to secure open shots.  In the end, 6B imposed its will on Ridgefield, winning by 14 points (62-48) and securing a spot in a 6B championship game.

Coach Malone and the boys of 6B will practice this week in preparation to take on talented Newtown Blue 6B on Saturday (3/9) at Darien High School (South).  The game will tip-off at 5 pm.

Westport PAL 8G

2013 FCBL 8G finalists - Westport PAL 8G

In four years of Westport PAL travel basketball, through different coaches, different opponents and different outcomes, the ladies of Westport PAL 8G have worked hard and persevered.  The hard work has paid off as 8G will make its third consecutive appearance in an FCBL championship game, with the chance for an 18th victory (against 5 defeats) and the opportunity for a second consecutive trophy.

Coaches Sam DiLeo and Kasey Keegan have 8G playing some of its best and most complete basketball of the season, with contributions up and down the roster.  On Saturday (3/2), 8G’s quarter-final opponent was Bridgeport Trumbull-Gardens.  8G was familiar with the scrappy ladies of BTG, having tied them in an early season game before squeaking out a four-point victory during the FCBL league season.  In last Saturday’s third meeting, 8G shot out of the gate, quickly built a double digit lead and never looked back, overcoming BTG’s full-court press and hitting free throws to earn a semi-final appearance (34-17).  Olivia Troy was an offensive force, while Rachel Seideman had just a single turnover against the BTG press to help run the offense and play tough on ball defense against BTG’s talented point guard.  Up front, 8G controlled the offensive and defensive glass with Grace McGinley, Virginia Gerig and Julia Brower.  On the wings, Charlotte Rossi and Morgan McWhirter contributed on the offensive and defensive ends to help 8G earn the victory.

In Sunday’s semi-final against Newtown 8G, the ladies of 8G once again shot out of the gate to a double digit lead, with Rachel Seideman scoring 11 of 8G’s 21 first-half points, assisted by solid high post screens from Olivia Troy and Charlotte Rossi.  Newtown was valiant and did not back down, eventually closing the double digit lead in the fourth quarter by employing a swarming full court press.  8G managed to hold its poise, never relinquished the lead and earned another shot at a championship (38-33).  Once again, contributions came up and down the line-up, assisted in the semi-finals by the return of Mary McGee.  The size of Grace McGinley, Virginia Gerig and Julia Brower led to blocked Newtown shots and, eventually, increasing use of the long outside shot.  Those shots were well contested throughout the game by Olivia Troy, Charlotte Rossi and Morgan McWhirter.

Coaches DiLeo and Keegan will get 8G ready this week to meet a familiar and pesky foe.  In Saturday’s (3/9) championship game at 1:50 pm at Ridgefield High School, 8G will take on Weston for the chance to finish the season with a victory and a trophy.

Westport PAL 8B

An inconsistent, injury-plagued and even disappointing regular season that had the boys of 8B finishing with an around .500 record could have been viewed as a precursor to an early exit from the FCBL playoffs this year.  But Coaches Glenn O’Neill, Tom Whelan and Brendan Morgan have seen and cultivated the talent and togetherness of the 8B squad all season and viewed the playoffs as the opportunity for a season’s worth of work to be put on display.

Ben Casparius rises and fires the jump shot in Westport PAL 8B's quarter-final victory over Waterbury

In last Saturday afternoon’s quarterfinal contest, 8B took on a talented Waterbury squad.  Both teams opened with strong defensive performances that kept the scoring down and the squads neck and neck through most of the first half.  In the game’s key moments as halftime approached, 8B strung several shots together to take a 6-point lead that it never relinquished.  That momentum continued through the third quarter as 8B built its lead to eleven, and through the fourth quarter, on the way to a thirteen point victory (64-51).  Ben Casparius led the way for 8B (23 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 blocked shot); however, 8B’s balance re-appeared, bolstered by the return of talented wing player Sean Pritchett (13 points and 5 rebounds in Sean’s first game action following recovery from a broken fibula), Mack Muller (11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots) and solid floor leadership and on ball defense from Jesse Levinson – forced to carry the ball handling duties against Waterbury due to foul trouble for Justin Seideman.

Westport PAL 8B's Kenny Brill (#11) and Mack Muller look to trap the Waterbury ball handler in last weekend's quarter-final victory

Sunday afternoon’s semi-final was against a familiar foe – Carver Center-Norwalk.  Bucking season long trends, 8B came out flying on both ends of the court, taking a 20-7 lead after the first quarter.  Undeterred, Carver Center-Norwalk held 8B to just five points in the second quarter, creeping to within five points (25-20) at halftime.  Momentum seemed to continue in Carver Center-Norwalk’s favor into the third quarter as they tied and ultimately inched ahead of 8B at the end of the third (35-38).  With the chance to fade away or pull it together, 8B played a solid final quarter on both ends of the floor, holding Carver Center-Norwalk to 8 points while scoring 23 to seal the victory and the chance at a championship (58-46).  In another clutch and complete playoff performance, Ben Casparius led 8B (20 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot), with contributions from Justin Seideman (14 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot) and the resurgent Mack Muller (10 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals); however, once again, 8B’s success was attributable to balance, with contributions from Josh Berman (5 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal), Jesse Levinson (4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal) and Brendan Massoud (2 points, 2 rebounds).

Westport PAL 8B's Kenny Brill (#11), Matty Fair (#10) and Fritz Schemel (#12) in 8B's semi-final victory over Carver Center-Norwalk

8B will practice this week before taking on West Haven in the championship game on Saturday (3/9) at 6:10 pm at Weston High School.

Westport PAL 5G

Winning 18 consecutive games to begin a travel basketball career is remarkable.  Going the entire FCBL season without a defeat is uncommon.  The Westport PAL 5G girls entered the playoffs with a huge bull’s eye on their backs and, in the double-elimination playoffs, the squads from Shelton and Orange were loaded for bear as they each defeated 5G, ending their incredible run.

The defeats sting but shouldn’t lessen the pride of a season that ends with 18 victories and just 2 defeats.  Coach Karen Puskas and the girls of 5G are likely to be heard from a lot during the next few winter travel basketball seasons.

Westport PAL 5B

Unfortunately, Coach Charles Connor’s Westport PAL 5B boys were unable to re-capture the “mojo” that had them on a seven game winning streak as recently as mid-February.  Tough road games to finish the FCBL regular season were followed by an opening playoff round game against the talented and scrappy Fairfield PAL Celtics.  In a close, hard-fought game throughout, Fairfield ended 5B’s season last Saturday (33-38).  5B completes an incredibly successful initial travel basketball season with 15 victories against 8 defeats.

Westport PAL 6G

After an up and down regular season hampered by cancellations from the snow storm and despite not having played a game since mid-February, Coach Johanna McNelis and the Westport PAL 6G girls entered the double-elimination playoffs with high hopes.  Unfortunately, so did the talented Stamford Young Timers and St. Mary’s Ridgefield.  On Friday evening (3/1), the Stamford Young Timers sent 6G to an initial defeat, while on Saturday (3/2), St. Mary’s-Ridgefield ended 6G’s season.

Westport PAL 7G

Coach Chris Scholz and the Westport PAL 7G girls were riding high into mid-February; however, cancellations from the snow storm left 7G preparing for the FCBL playoffs without game action since February 15th.  In the single elimination playoffs, that rust, together with a tough squad from Bethel, ended 7G’s playoff run in a tight six-point loss on Saturday (3/2).

Westport PAL 7B

On a nine game winning streak to end the regular season, the Westport PAL 7B boys and Coaches Vinnie Rissolo and Andrew Strauss entered the playoffs with expectations.  And after a quarter-final victory over Southbury (47-43) on Saturday (3/2), 7B took on Wilton on Sunday (3/3) at Chelsea Piers-Stamford riding a ten game winning streak.  Unfortunately, winning streaks ultimately end and 7B was unable to extend its streak to eleven as Wilton defeated 7B to move on to next weekend’s championship game.

Saturday’s defeat does not diminish the incredible regular season of 7B, including its regular season B division championship.

Congratulations to all of the PAL basketball teams and coaches this season, and good luck to 6B, 8G and 8B in their respective championship games this weekend.

Evan Seideman