By Jane White
From the time the 2014-15 Falls City Lady Irish set foot on the basketball court, they were on a mission.
The mission, which they chose to accept, was returning the Lady Irish program to the state basketball tournament championship final and bring home a title.
The Lady Irish accomplished that mission Saturday, defeating Wynot, 44-39, to win the Class D2 crown at the Nebraska High School Girls Basketball State Championships at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.
“This is such a good feeling and it’s such a relief,” Sacred Heart coach Luke Santo said of winning the state title.
“We’ve been lucky to be in the tournament and we’ve been thankful for that, but when you’re hear, you want to get to that championship game. We were finally able to get it done and I’m happy the girls were able to finish it the right way.”
It had been 15 years since a Lady Irish basketball team hoisted a state championship trophy. Sacred Heart won the Class D1 state title in 2000.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years,” Santo said. “We have all that tradition and we’ve been here, but we just haven’t been able to get it done.”
This year’s team made it four state championships for the Lady Irish overall, as Sacred Heart teams also won D1 titles in 1998 and 1999. The Lady Irish had placed third in D2 the last two years and hadn’t been to a championship game since they played for the D2 title in 2007.
Heading into the championship game, Santo said the Lady Irish expected a battle from Wynot.
Santo said the first item of business in the scoring report was to not turn over the ball.
“If you don’t turn it over against them, they can’t get their pressure going and their crowd stays out of it,” Santo said.
Santo said he wanted to turn the contest into a half-court game.
“I wanted to run our offense and then make them play against our set defense,” Santo said. “They struggled against our defense at times and that was the key to slow it down and play more half-court.”
When it came to handling the ball, the Lady Irish put the basketball and their trust into the hands of twin seniors Abby and Elizabeth Magdanz.
“We made it so they there going to break it (press),” Santo said, “and then clear everybody out. They did a great job of handling it. They didn’t get spooked or rattled.”
Sacred Heart senior Abby Magdanz said the Wynot pressure was tough.
“I think we did a pretty good job of taking care of it,” she said. “At the beginning, we had a couple turnovers we probably shouldn’t have had, but at the end we took care of it.”
Keeping the momentum away from Wynot was also a key, Santo said.
Santo said each time the momentum started to switch to Wynot, the Lady Irish were able to make plays and swing it back to their side.
“I was really proud of the way the girls responded,” Santo said. “Often teams panic or get spooked by Wynot, but our girls didn’t. We didn’t panic or get spooked and we didn’t turn it over.”
Abby said the team’s defense was a key to winning the state title.
“Our defense was key as it has been in most games,” Abby Magdanz said.
Elizabeth said the biggest challenge was playing in a close game all the way, something the Lady Irish hadn’t had to do in a while.
“It was close game today and we knew we were going to have to battle the whole 32 minutes,” Elizabeth said. “Wynot never gave up and we battled the whole time with them.”
Elizabeth said she wasn’t sure the Lady Irish had the game in the bag until a timeout with about three seconds left.
“I looked at Coach Adam (Santo) and we both smiled at each other and I just knew all we had to do was get the ball in and finish it,” Elizabeth Magdanz said.
In the title game, Sacred Heart started out down 2-0 as Wynot hit the opening bucket.
But the deficit didn’t last long.
Elizabeth hit a two-pointer, which Maggie Goltz followed with a field goal, putting Sacred Heart up 4-2.
Wynot made it a one-point game with a free throw, but Goltz answered with a shot from the field for the Lady Irish.
The Blue Devils scored the next six points on two field goals and two free throws to go up 9-6 with 2:18 left in the first quarter.
A pair of free throws by Goltz pulled Sacred Heart within a point at 9-8, but Wynot answered with a field goal for a 11-8 lead.
Elizabeth closed out the first-quarter scoring with two free throws, but Wynot led 11-10.
A Blue Devil three-pointer to open the second quarter put Wynot up 14-10.
Then Sacred Heart went on a run.
Goltz hit two free throws, Abby Magdanz and Sara Wertenberger connected from the field and Elizabeth Magdanz sank a pair of charity tosses.
With 2:08 left in the second period, the Lady Irish had turned a four-point deficit into a four-point lead, 18-14.
The teams exchanged baskets to end the second quarter with Elizabeth hitting for Sacred Heart.
At halftime, the Lady Irish led 20-16.
To open the third quarter, Wynot hit a two, which was answered by Goltz with a shot from the field.
The Blue Devils hit two free throws with 7:05 left in the third period, making it a 22-20 game.
Sacred Heart scored the next five points as Goltz hit a free throw and then a bucket and Abby hit two free throws, making it a seven-point game with 3:53 left in the third quarter.
Wynot hit three free throws after being fouled on a shot from behind the arc to pull back within four points.
Abby hit a free throw and Jade Hill connected on a two, giving the Lady Irish their second seven-point lead of the period.
Wynot, however, banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to pull back within four points, 30-26, heading into the fourth quarter.
Goltz opened the final period with a free throw, but the Blue Devils hit a three to pull within two points, 31-29.
An offensive putback allowed Wynot to tie the game at 31 with 5:19 left in the contest.
Goltz hit a two, which Wynot answered for a 33-all tie with 3:46 left.
Elizabeth Magdanz hit a two, Abby Magdanz scored from the field and then Elizabeth Magdanz added a three-pointer, putting the Lady Irish up 40-33 with 2:15 left.
Wynot stayed in the game, hitting a three-pointer of its own, with 1:41 left.
The teams exchanged turnovers and then Sacred Heart missed an opportunity to score at the free-throw line.
With 54 seconds left, Wynot hit another three, making it a one-point game, 40-39.
Goltz was fouled with 17 seconds remaining and hit two free throws, giving the Lady Irish a three-point cushion.
The junior ended up back at the free-throw line with six seconds left and hit two more charity tosses to seal the 44-39 win.
“Maggie (Goltz) had a huge game,” Santo said. “For her to do that with no legs, it was incredible, especially making those free throws.”
Goltz has been hampered throughout the season with leg injuries.
“Maggie was finishing inside,” Santo said.
Goltz led all scorers in the championship game with 20 points on five field goals and a 10-for-12 performance from the free-throw line.
Elizabeth Magdanz also finished in double-figure scoring with 13 points.
Also scoring for the Lady Irish were Abby Magdanz with seven points and Jade Hill and Sara Wertenberger with two each.
Goltz topped the team in rebounds with eight and blocked shots with one, while Abby Magdanz had a team-high three assists and the twins each had a steal.
Winning the state championship was a “dream come true,” according to Goltz, a junior.
“We knew we had to step up and make big plays and it paid off for us,” Goltz said. “I wanted to do it for Abby and Elizabeth Magdanz, because I’ve played with them all my life. I wanted to do it for them.”
Sacred Heart advanced to the state title game with a 60-51 semifinal win over Stuart at the Devaney Sports Center Friday, March 6.
The Lady Irish built an early 8-0 lead in the game as Abby Magdanz and Hill each hit two field goals during the run.
Stuart cut Sacred Heart’s lead to 13-11 at the end of the first period by hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
A run in the second quarter put the Lady Irish up by 14 points with 33 seconds left in the half.
Alexis Barnes hit a three-pointer, Elizabeth Magdanz and Hill each connected on a two and bonus free throw and Goltz hit a three-pointer as Sacred Heart went up 31-17.
Stuart finished out the second-quarter scoring with two field goals, but the Lady Irish led by 10 points at intermission, 31-21.
The Lady Irish went on to outscore Stuart, 14-11, in the third quarter, while the Lady Broncos held a 19-15 scoring advantage in the fourth quarter.
Abby Magdanz led all scorers in the game with 21 points, while Elizabeth finished with 15 and Barnes with 10, including seven free throws in the fourth quarter.
Other scoring for the Lady Irish were Hill with nine and Goltz with five.
In the tournament opener, the Lady Irish defeated Crawford, 44-30, Thursday, March 5, at Lincoln Northstar.
Sacred Heart outscored Crawford 16-8 in the first quarter and 13-3 in the second to take a 29-11 halftime lead.
“We got off to a really good start,” Santo said. “We were prepared.”
Santo said the Lady Irish got the ball inside against Crawford, which is something they wanted to do.
“That was our focus, we wanted to get it inside,” Santo said. “I was pretty proud of the girls for the effort they gave and the start we had.”
The Lady Irish held an 8-7 scoring advantage in the third period, while Crawford outscored them 12-7 in the fourth.
Abby Magdanz led Sacred Heart in scoring with 11 points, while Elizabeth Magdanz and Hill added 10 each.
Also scoring for the Lady Irish were Goltz with eight, Barnes with three and Lauren Parrish with two.
Santo said it’s been a great year for the Lady Irish overall.
“We haven’t lost since our holiday tournament,” Santo said. “Winning MUDECAS, winning Pioneer Conference and being district champions. We’ve been playing great the last couple months.”
The Lady Irish’s win over Freeman in the MUDECAS Tournament was the turning point, Santo said.
“I think our girls knew we were good, but I think when we beat Freeman it was like, hey, we can beat anybody,” Santo said.
After the Freeman win, Santo said the Lady Irish were playing with a “new level” of confidence.
“When we show up, we think we’re going to get it done and we haven’t lost since December or whatever,” Santo said.
Santo said all of the Lady Irish’s players played well in the tournament and made plays when they had to.
“I’m happy for the girls and for the seniors to go out on top,” Santo said. “The Magdanz girls have put so much time into it since they were young and Kelsi Fouraker bounced back from her knee injury.”
Elizabeth Magdanz said she’s dreamed of winning a state championship since she was in fourth grade and started playing basketball.
“Sacred Heart has had a great tradition, but the girls hadn’t won a championship in a while and it’s good to bring it back.”
Abby Magdanz said it was made “more special” for her because she got to win the title with her sister.
“We’re going out with a win as seniors,” Abby Magdanz said.
Next year, the Magdanz twins will be off to separate colleges as Abby is headed to UNO and Elizabeth to UNL.
Overall, Santo said he’s happy for all of the players and for the school to get another state championship.
Looking ahead, Santo said he’ll miss the three seniors and will need to find some ballhandlers, but the team has a lot of size coming back.
“The future is still bright,” Santo said.