Another year older and more importantly, wiser, the Falls City Sacred Heart boys take to the hardwood again Thursday night at the state basketball tournament.
It will be the 17th appearance for the Irish boys’ basketball program and the 13th under head coach Doug Goltz, who will look to capture his ninth state championship in his 26th season at FCSH.
Fourth-ranked and third-seeded FCSH (22-4) will face familiar foe Sterling (19-7, ranked third) for the fourth time this season Thursday night at 8:45 in the first round of the Class D2 bracket, nearly two weeks removed from a 42-41 defeat the Jets handed the Irish in the sub-district final.
Sterling held the Irish to 12 points in the first half and held a 21-12 edge on the glass. Irish junior Chaz Dunn nailed five second-half threes and had an 11-0 run by himself to get his team back in the game, but the Jets’ Ceaton Malone scored with less than three seconds left in the game to seal up the victory.
Goltz said the Irish were outplayed by Sterling in the sub-final, but the loss also helped his team come together for a potential run in Lincoln.
“Sterling played better than we did, they shot well and defended well,” Goltz said. “We will need to do a better job this time. Losing that game didn’t shake us to the core, but I do think it helped re-focus us.”
That loss caused a ripple effect in the seeding and set up “Round 4” between FCSH and Sterling. The Irish were bumped from the top seed (assuming they would have defeated Dorchester in the district final), which Leyton (23-1) claimed, and a matchup with 13-10 Wauneta-Palisade.
Goltz and the Irish qualified a season ago, but were handed an early exit by Wynot in the opening round. It was only the second first-round loss ever for Goltz, who holds a 25-4 record in the state tournament.
“It’s always good to have the experience of being in that environment the year before,” Goltz said of last year’s tournament. “We return all but one player from that team, so playing in Lincoln last year is a plus.”
Wynot, currently 22-3 and ranked fifth, also return to Lincoln and are the No. 2 seed, setting up a potential semifinal with the Irish on Friday.
Wynot will face two-time defending D2 state champs Giltner (21-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln High.
Wausa (22-3) and Spalding Academy (23-2) round out the top half of the D2 bracket as the number four and five seeds, respectively. But recent history will have the attention on the bottom half, as all four teams were at state a season ago. Giltner and Sterling will be playing in their fifth-straight state tournaments and Wynot makes its third-straight appearance.
“I think there are quite a few teams capable of putting together three good games and winning the D2 title,” Goltz said. “I think our side might be a little tougher because of that state tournament experience factor. Teams like Giltner, Wynot and Sterling have had a lot of success the past few years.”
Goltz said despite the quick departure from last year’s tournament, his players stayed in Lincoln to watch some games and spent most of the day Saturday at the Devaney Center for the championship games.
The hope being that with only one player gone from a season ago, teams like Wynot and Giltner will be watching the Irish at Devaney this Saturday.