Irish basketball queens, kings of Pioneer Conference

The Falls City Sacred Heart Irish basketball teams swept the titles of the Pioneer Conference Saturday in Wymore, as the girls won a fifth conference championship in eight years with a commanding 55-38 win over Friend and the boys followed with a 48-45 victory over NC Lourdes for their third title in as many years.  

For the 20-2 ladies, winners now of 15 in a row, it was business as usual – right up until the end, when the green machine celebrated victory No. 200 for Team Santo. In just their ninth season, head coach Luke Santo, with not a little assistance from his brother Adam, have compiled a staggering 200-37 record. With more – many more – yet to come. 

Luke Santo refused to take the credit for such a gaudy record, instead sending it the way of past and present players.

“To reach 200 is a great milestone, but you have to have great players to win, and there’s hardly a night where we don’t show up with the better players,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to coach a lot of high character girls who were also good at basketball. And Adam deserves as much of the credit because he’s been there with me the whole way.”

And while Adam and Luke have enjoyed a glut of good times – every single March has included a trip to Lincoln, including this March – there’s been heartbreak, too, as each and every one of those state tournament trips also included a loss to eventual state champions. Maybe more impressive than 200 wins: 3-0, FCSH’s record under the Santo boys in consolation games, or “funerals” as Luke not-to-subtly described the game for third place a year ago. And 3-0 it’s going to stay, as the NSAA has ended that misguided reach for revenue. 

Regardless, who’s going to beat them? Since a 39-31 loss to Sutton (now 19-3), FCSH hasn’t had a game decided by single digits. That includes the 17-point win over a Friend team the Irish lost to way back in December. FCSH beat Diller-Odell 46-29 in Friday’s conference semifinal and whipped Southern 54-19 in the quarterfinal Thursday.

“I really like how we’re playing now,” Santo said. “Our scorers are scoring, but we’re getting contributions from everyone. Jade Hill played great in the championship. Alexis Barnes knocked down some big shots, and our bench continues to give us solid minutes. If we can continue to get contributions out of everyone, we should be pretty tough down the road.”

In the title game, senior Abby Magdanz drained three of her five three-point attempts, scored a team-high 13 points and also dished out five assists. Junior All-Stater Maggie Goltz, hindered by injury most of the year, scored 12 points to go with seven boards and three blocks. Hill, a sophomore, finished with eight points and seven rebounds, while Barnes, another sophomore, drilled a three and scored nine. It was 12-3 after one quarter and the Irish were never threatened. They owned a 30-20 rebounding edge and made a solid 12-of-18 from the free throw stripe. 

Thursday’s win was no different, as Elizabeth hit a trio of threes and scored 16, Abby scored 11, to go with five steals and three assists, and Goltz scored 10 and grabbed nine rebounds, five offensive. The team didn’t shoot well at the line (10-of-25), but made up for it with six threes and a measely seven turnovers (while forcing 21). 

“It was another special week for the girls. In the big games, they’ve just been playing with a different level of confidence and focus. To win the Pioneer Conference is always special, but to do it against a team that beat you earlier in the year makes it even better. We’re very happy for our seniors. I told the girls that we’re a completely different team than back in December when Friend beat us. We have everyone buying in now, everyone understands their roles, and we know what our identity is now. Back then, we weren’t really sure who we were.”

Not good news for the opponents. FCSH travels to North Andrew tonight and hosts Highland/Doniphan (KS) West Thursday for the regular season finale. It will be the final appearance at Prichard Auditorium for seniors Kelsi Fouraker and record-breaking Magdanz twins.

The Irish guys, on the other hand, had a much more demanding week, winning the three games by fewer than 20 points total. Still, with a 50-43 win over Friend, 59-52 victory over a .500 Pawnee City team, and three-point triumph over a strong 16-5 Knights, team, FCSH won for the eighth straight time on the floor and improved to 15-4 on the season. The Irish haven’t lost since MUDECAS.

They’ve had to earn most of them, and that was never more true than Saturday, when the long-range shooting of senior Logan Scheitel led Sacred Heart to a third first-place trophy in as many years. Scheitel drained a season-high six threes and scored a team-high 20 points. Two of Scheitel’s long-distance deliveries came during a critical stretch in the fourth quarter. He also led his team with 10 rebounds and recorded five assists. Senior Austin Malone, too, was near the rare air of a triple-double, scoring 10 points to go with nine rebounds and seven assists. Bryant Jorn finished with 10 points. Both Malone (a perfect 4-for-4 from the line) and Jorn hit big free throws to help clinch the victory for FCSH. 

The Irish weathered a huge second half by NC Lourdes big man Noah Vasa. The 6-8 postman managed six points in the first half, but finished the game with 21, hitting 9-of-14 from the floor. 

Sacred Heart didn’t get a “gimmee” all week – that included Friday’s seven-point win over Pawnee City. The Indians, which actually lost to 4-15 Conestoga in December, got up early and had an upset brewing before Malone turned in perhaps the half of his sterling career. After going scoreless the first quarter and taking one field goal and four points into the locker room with his team down six, 29-23, Malone found his stroke. He made his first three shots, missed a three, then was near-perfect the rest of the way. Malone scored 12 of his team’s 16 in the third period and made 6-of-8 foul shots during a 20-point Irish fourth that saw a three-point deficit turn into a seven-point victory. He finished with 26, going 10-of-13 from the line and 8-of-12 from the floor. Scheitel scored 13, hitting a three and two big free throws late, and junior guard Bailey Witt hit three key free throws and scored four during the climactic fourth. He was also the defensive leader for FCSH, recording five of the team’s seven steals. Led by Jorn’s eight rebounds, the Irish owned a significant 26-19 edge on the glass. 

Sacred Heart forced 21 Friend turnovers Thursday, or a 50-43 win may have instead been “one and done” of epic proportions for the No. 1 seed. Friend’s previous win over Sterling, allowing the Bulldogs into the conference quarterfinal, snapped a seven-game skid that included a loss to 3-15 East Butler. The Irish opened up a 17-6 early lead, as Malone made his first three shots, Scheitel drained his first three-ball of the tournament and Jorn, Henry Arnold and Ben Mullins each made their first attempts and things were progressing as planned. But an eight-point second quarter by Friend’s David Segner (team-high 18) helped the Bulldogs cut into that lead and the Irish took a six-point lead into half that they could never quite shake. 

Still, FCSH hung on. And hung on, and hung on again, winning yet another conference title. 

The Irish travel to North Andrew, MO, tonight with a score to settle from last fall, and return home Thursday to face Highland before a much-needed eight-day breather. 

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