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Darien 8th-Graders Capture County Crown

DARIEN, Conn. – All game long, Darien YMCA Blue coach Kevin George implored his team to “get there” on defense. His eighth-graders did just that, and they walked away with a Fairfield County Basketball League championship as a result.

Darien won the AA bracket of the season-ending tournament with a 60-51 win over New Castle of Westchester County, N.Y., at Weston High School. Tim Graham paced a balanced attack with 16 points for Darien (16-6), but it was the team’s defense that carried the second half.

“That’s what this team does best,’’ said George, who used a full-court pressure zone to make it hard for New Castle to find an offensive rhythm. “That’s what I’ve been telling them since we started two years ago. Today wasn’t our best game, but they played with heart and energy and were able to pull it out.”

Darien took control with an 8-0 run late in the third quarter to snap a 35-35 tie. New Castle got within 43-38 entering the fourth quarter, but Darien never lost the lead. With about four minutes remaining, Darien slowed its offense and waited for layups or fouls. Darien hit six-of-seven free throws in the final 2:43 to seal it.

Darien earned a difficult tournament draw, opening with an 81-71 over Trumbull Gardens of Bridgeport before beating Carver Center of Norwalk, 61-55, in the semifinals. Darien went just 8-5 in league play during the season, including a 2-5 skid beginning in late January. It lost to New Castle, 69-54, on Feb. 17.

“Our tournament games and regular season prepared us for this game,’’ George said. “We had our ups-and-downs. We lost our way a little bit, and we were missing some kids at certain points. But they slowly started to get it back together.”

Drew Rollap had six of his 10 points in the fourth quarter for Darien. Geoffrey Parnon added eight, and Hudson Hamill had seven.

The championship caps a tremendous two-year run for Darien under George, the former Fairfield University star who is an assistant at Norwalk High School. Last year’s team won its bracket in the county tournament en route to a 21-1 mark.

“I told them at the beginning of the year they were the best team, but it was going to be hard,’’ George said. “Everything is much harder in eighth grade. They’re a great group, they work hard, and love to play defense and share the basketball. They’re a tremendously athletic group. I’m going to miss them.”

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