MILLBURN, NJ — It took only one season, but Millburn's Fifth Grade Boys Travel Basketball team is on top of the mountain after winning their championship game last night, 44-40 against an undefeated and top seed Maplewood/South Orange squad.
The game started off slow for Millburn as they went down 8-0 very quickly. Head coach Rob Dasti said, "The nerves were clearly a factor in the early going for Millburn as our offense was sluggish, stagnant and simply not working right. We were rushing our shots, not driving to the basket and settling for poor shot selection on the perimeter while not moving the ball."
It took a couple of minutes but finally a three pointer from Quinn Barkley broke the 0 on the board for Millburn. Followed up by a steal and score in transition from Chace Redler. Just like that the boys in blue were back in the game. Holden Cohn secured a nice block and steal which led to a transition three point shot from Leo Dalton ending the first quarter and cutting the deficit down even more.
Despite settling down, the team remained down a few baskets for most of the second quarter. However, the defense stayed strong and kept Millburn in the game. Down 9 with 30 seconds left in the first half. Brandon ray came up with a big steal, passing the ball to Redler who hit a basket to cut the deficit to seven at halftime.
"Coach Brown and I told the boys at half time we needed to make some adjustments but most importantly we reminded them to stay confident, keep fighting and stay aggressive," Dasti said. "We tightened up the defense and started to communicate better in the second half."
One of the biggest impacts to help swing the momentum in the contest was Nick Ferraro’s aggressive defense, which he brought off the bench.
"[Ferarro's] energy really helped us and the boys fed off of it," Dasti said. "Our offense started to space the floor more and run better in transition. We started off the second half hot and tied the game within a couple of minutes. From that point on the game went back and forth with neither team really securing a lead larger than four."
After pushing hard all quarter, Millburn took a four-point lead 39-35 with about 1:30 left on the game clock. After two tough turnovers, Maplewood/South Orange took the lead 40-39 with about 30 seconds left in the game.
But one more time, Millburn would step up to the pressure.
"We stayed in our 2-3 zoned defense but looked to trap the ball handler by half court against the sideline," Dasti said. "Once I realized the trap was not working so great and was going to take up time we went to foul. Right before the foul their guard tried to make a pass out of the trap.
"Chace Redler and Brandon Rey forced a tough lob pass across the top of the key. Leo Dalton read it perfectly, jumped the pass and took the ball down the court to score the go-ahead basket and put the millers up 41-40. Millburn would ice the game on free throws from Redler and Leo Dalton to hold on for the win.
One thing Dasti noted was the support from the community, which helped Millburn to the win. He said he was also proud of the way his team meshed.
"I am so proud of my 12 players led by their two captains Chace Redler and Leo Dalton," Dasti said. "This team has come such a long way and have worked so hard for it. Being behind the 8ball from the start was no easy task, but they truly defined why hard work and supporting each other pays off."
The championship week continues with the fifth grade girls team, who play tonight at 8:00 p.m. at the Verona community center in their finals, and the sixth grade boys, who play Friday night at 6:30 p.m. at Roosevelt Middle School in West Orange in theirs.