By Jane White
Jason Schock contributed to this report
Falls City Sacred Heart’s Lady Irish won the MUDECAS girls basketball “A” Division championship in dominating fashion over Freeman, taking a 51-35 victory Friday at the Beatrice City Auditorium.
The Irish led 42-25 entering the final quarter and emptied the bench early against the third-ranked Lady Falcons. For 12-2 FCSH, for now ranked No. 2 in Class D2, it was a seventh win in a row and capped a tournament exemplied by sensational defense. FCSH held Diller-Odell to 22 points in the opener and beat D2 eighth-ranked Exeter-Milligan 39-25 in Thursday’s semifinal.
During the current run, opponents are averaging fewer than 25 points per game against the Irish defense. And these are good teams, too. With the exception of winless Thayer Central, which kicked off FCSH’s winning streak on New Year’s Eve, the wins have come against teams with a collective 58-20 record.
“Something clicked about three weeks ago and our girls are playing with a new level of confidence,” FC Sacred Heart Head Coach Luke Santo said. “We started building up a little momentum after our win at Elmwood-Murdock, and we carried that momentum into MUDECAS.
“Our offense still has a ways to go, but the girls have really bought in on the defensive end. Our man defense is usually pretty reliable, but our zone defense the past few weeks has really frustrated some good teams,” he said.
None more so than Freeman. The Falcons, which has scored 75 in a game and more than 50 nine times this season. They entered the game riding a 12-game winning streak and ranked third in Class C2.
“We knew going into it, it was going to be a tough game,” Santo said, noting he considered his team the underdogs headed into the contest.
“Them being Freeman, them having all the athletes, them winning state volleyball and us being the two seed,” Santo said. “Usually, we don’t try to play that role, but it was something our girls did a good job with.”
Santo said he also reminded the Lady Irish, however, that they are Sacred Heart and have a history and tradition, too.
“We love MUDECAS week,” Santo said. “Our girls get excited. We love coming up here and it’s a heck of a week for us. We have such an appreciation and respect for the MUDECAS tournament.
Santo called all three tourney victories “team wins.”
“Abby and Elizabeth (Magdanz) were really steady and Maggie (Goltz) showed signs of how good she could be if she was healthy,” Santo said. “Alexis Barnes hit some big shots and Jade Hill had some good looks in the first half she finished and played really good defense.”
Santo said the team’s subs also contributed.
“The girls deserve a lot of credit for the effort and focus that they put into last week. Going into the championship, our focus was that much sharper knowing that we were playing a great team in Freeman. I’m just happy for the girls and especially our seniors,” he said.
The Lady Irish led 16-7 at the end of the first quarter and Freeman was never able to make up the initial deficit.
Santo said getting off to a good start is something the Lady Irish have been working on.
“We’ve been focusing on the start,” Santo said. “Thursday night we got off to a good start and tonight we got off to a good start.”
Hill opened the game’s scoring for Sacred Heart with a field goal with 6:35 left in the first quarter. Goltz, who didn’t miss a single shot all night and finished with a game-high 18 points, followed with two free throws, giving the Lady Irish a 4-0 lead.
A three-pointer by Freeman’s Katie Meyer made it 4-3 with 4:54 left in the first period, but Barnes, who made 3-of-4 from three-point land and scored 12, answered with a trey. The teams exchanged buckets, with Hill (team-high seven rebounds) hitting for FCSH and Alexis Holland for Freeman.With 2:22 left in the first quarter, the Lady Irish led 9-7.
From then on, however, the game belonged to FCSH. Hill hit a two, Abby Magdanz a three and Lauren Parrish a two, giving the Lady Irish a 16-7 lead at the end of the quarter.
Sacred Heart led by as many as 12 points in the second and took a 31-20 lead at intermission.
FCSH opened the half with an 8-0 run, which essentially served as a knock-out punch. Goltz hit a shot, Barnes connected on three free throws after being fouled on a three, and Abby Magdanz hit a trey. With 2:23 left, the Lady Irish led 39-20.
Freeman finished out the game with a 10-9 final period, but only after an 6-0 Irish run.
One area where the Lady Irish have shown improvement, Santo said, is defensively.
“We struggle to score sometimes, but I keep reminding the girls if they are holding teams in the 20s or 30s we’ll have a great shot.”
Against Freeman, Santo said the Lady Irish wanted to “take away their bigs inside” and didn’t want Meyer to get free on the perimeter.
Abby Magdanz, who scored eight Saturday and led her team with six assists and four steals, and Goltz were named to the All-Tourney First Team. Goltz, who’s been hindered by a perplexing leg injury for about a full calendar year, was a collective 11-of-12 from the field and 8-of-11 from the line in the semifinal and final. Abby averaged 11 points and led her team with 13 assists over the three games. Hill, Liz Magdanz and Barnes were named All-Tourney honorable mention.
Santo said he was especially happy for the team’s seniors, because “winning MUDECAS as seniors is special.
“We say its up there with winning a conference or state championship,” Santo said. “Now, we have to keep the momentum going.”