A tale of two halves was the story line Friday night for the top-ranked Falls City Sacred Heart Lady Irish, who clinched a berth in this weekend’s state tournament prior to their 44-33 district final victory over Diller-Odell and that lack of urgency to win their way into the big dance was evident in the first 16 minutes.
The Lady Irish scored two points in the second quarter – a pair of Maggie Goltz free throws – and trailed the Griffins 21-14 as the teams entered the locker room at halftime.
“We knew Diller would come out and play with a lot of energy and emotion, FCSH Head Coach Luke Santo said. “It makes it tough when you know you have your spot locked up and they know they have to win to get in. We just came out and looked tentative and a step slow the whole first half.
“At halftime, we challenged the girls to come out and play harder,” Santo said. “We let Diller dictate everything the first half, so we wanted to come out and be more aggressive.”
Santo, whose teams have qualified for state in seven of his eight seasons at FCSH, used a different press against D-O in the second half, which led to more turnovers, and offensively, shots that rimmed out early started to fall. After a 4-for-16 shooting performance in the first half, the Lady Irish hit 9-of-18 from the floor in the second and attacked the Griffins off the dribble. This led to 17 free-throw attempts the final two periods, of which FCSH converted a dozen.
FCSH held D-O to one basket in the fourth quarter and only four field goals the entire second half, as they closed the game with a 30-12 run.
“The girls knew they had to toughen up in the second half and we did a much better job of limiting their second chances,” Santo said. “Also, I think our press eventually took its toll. Diller looked tired towards the end of the third quarter and through the fourth quarter. The girls deserve a lot of credit for holding them to two points in the fourth when the game was on the line.”
Goltz finished 5-for-10 from the floor, including 3-for-6 from the three-point line and 7-for-10 at the charity stripe, for 19 points and the sophomore was the only Irish player in double figures. Junior Abby Magdanz, the team’s second leading scorer, chipped in eight points, as did freshman Haylee Heits, who also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Friday’s win – number 25 – matched the Lady Irish’s school-record-tying win total from a year ago (2001-2002 team also won 25 games) and a victory Thursday (9 a.m. at Lincoln Southwest) over their first round opponent, Wauneta-Palisade would set a new single-season record for victories.
The Broncos, coached by Betsy Johnson, enter state 17-8 and defeated Paxton, 55-34, in their district championship.
Santo said his team was able to watch the W-P’s game against Lindsay Holy Family at last year’s state tournament and said despite that day’s bad outcome – W-P lost 69-39 – the Broncos should be a formidable foe.
“Wauneta is a dangerous team,” said Santo. “They struggled that day (last year), but we knew from their roster that they had a bunch of underclassmen, so they might be back again this year. Some of those girls are now seniors and teams with a lot of seniors play with a greater sense of urgency, so we expect a great challenge.”
Tailor Lee (No. 15) is one of those seniors and the 5-9 forward leads the team in points (12.8) and rebounds (8.6) and is second with 45 steals. Sydnee Harchelroad, a 5-7 junior, averages 10.2 points per game and is second on the team with 77 assists.
W-P scored just over 51 points a game and allowed fewer than 37.
Opposite FCSH sits No. 4 seed and three-time defending D-2 champions, Wynot (21-6), led by all-stater Maggie Schulte. The 6-0 senior scored 479 points this season and could very well be the best player in the bracket. Wynot, who defeated FCSH handily in the first round two years ago, will face fifth-seeded Bancroft-Rosalie (15-9) immediately following the FCSH and W-P game. The other half of the bracket will play their opening round games Thursday night at Lincoln North Star, where No. 2 seed Giltner (23-2) faces No. 7 Crawford (16-7) and No. 6 Stuart (17-8) squares off against No. 3 Sterling (18-7). Friday’s semifinals are at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. and will be played at the Devaney Sports Complex. Should FCSH win Thursday they will play in the first semifinal Friday night. Saturday’s D-2 title game will be held at the new Pinnacle Bank Arena and is scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. tip-off.
This is 18th appearance at the girls state basketball tournament for FCSH and the 17th trip in their last 19 seasons. But state titles are the measuring stick and the last Lady Irish team to cut the nets down in Lincoln was the 1999-2000 team.
Santo and company finished third a season ago, but he thinks this team has a different feel to it.
“I feel like the girls think they’re on a mission this years. I think it all started with the third-place win last year against Lindsay Holy Family. It laid the foundation for the success we’re having this year. We weren’t able to win a MUDECAS or Pioneer Championship, but I think the girls feel like there is an even bigger prize out there.”
Santo went on to add that some teams are just happy to be at the state tournament and that was probably them last season. With everyone returning and the addition of some talented newcomers, the expectations have been there all year.
“We can’t get caught up in that,” Santo said. “We just hope that we can relax, play like we’re capable of, and compete at the highest level we have all year.”
Scoring vs. Diller-Odell
FCSH – Jordan 4, A. Magdanz 8, E. Magdanz 5, Goltz 19, Heits 8.
D-O – J. Vitosh 10, Jurgens 2, Hajek 3, Schmidt 2, Schultis 2, Saathoff 14.