FC Sacred Heart’s boys’ state tournament run ended abruptly as the Irish fell to Cedar Bluffs-Riverside, 55-53, Thursday at Lincoln Southeast High School in the first round of the Class D2 Nebraska State High School Boys Basketball Championships.
Sacred Heart, 20-game winners and District Champs making a fourth consecutive trip to state and seeking a third straight trophy after third-place finishes in both 2013 and 2014, got down 12-3 to state tourney rookies Riverside and never led the entire night. They found themselves trailing by 14 points with 2:31 remaining and needed a ridiculous 10-point flurry inside of the final minute to make the score look closer than the game actually was.
It was a rare early exit for the 20-7 Irish, who have lost just four first round games in 19 trips to Lincoln in its school’s history. The bitter taste only soured as the weekend progressed, too, as FCSH sat home and watched Exeter-Milligan, a team it beat like a drum, 57-42, back on March 3 in Beatrice for the District Championship, Saturday upset defending champion Bancroft-Rosalie, 67-62 in double overtime, to claim the D2 title.
“We were a little undisciplined at times,” SH Coach Doug Goltz, now 29-7 overall in state tournament games, said. “I thought we forced up a lot of shots and wasted a lot of offensive possessions.”
FCSH entered state having won 13 of its previous 15 games, but didn’t bring it’s “A” game Thursday. Goltz said overall, the Chargers outplayed the Irish.
“We kind of picked a bad night to not execute very well at times,” Goltz said. “That was the difference I thought.”
While he was disappointed with the loss, Goltz was not disappointed with the effort of his team in getting back to the state tournament, especially that of his five seniors.
“I think these kids maybe surprised themselves,” Goltz said. “Sacred Heart always expects to have a good team that competes with all the teams we play, but I don’t know if many people gave this team the respect to think they would play in the state tournament.”
Goltz said he told his team he was proud of them after the game for having a 20-win season, making a state tournament appearance and winning the Pioneer Conference tournament.
Riverside started out the game with a 5-0 lead, hitting a two-pointer and then a three.
Senior Austin Malone, who finished with a game-high 20 points, put Sacred Heart on the scoreboard, hitting a three-point goal with 5:06 left in the first. The Chargers then went on a 7-0 run, going up 12-3 with 4:34 remaining in the second quarter on a two-point field goal, two free throws and a three-pointer.
But the Irish then made a run of their own. Sophomore giant Bryant Jorn connected from behind the arc, Malone hit a two-pointer an bonus free throw and then added another field goal.
With just over two minutes left before the end of the quarter, the Irish were within one point of the Chargers, 12-11.
Riverside stopped the SH run with a three-pointer, but Irish junior Bailey Witt answered from the line, hitting three of four free throws in the final 59 seconds to make it a 15-14 game at the end of the first period.
“We definitely didn’t have a very good start,” Goltz said. “We kind of got behind the eight ball. Every time we’d dig ourselves out, they’d have another spurt.”
Goltz said the Irish had “a few good spurts” in the game, too, not enough.”
Heading into the game, Goltz said he knew Riverside was a good offensive team.
While Riverside was on track offensively, Goltz said the Irish had trouble scoring.
“Our offense was not very good,” Goltz said. “We struggled to put the ball in the basket. We were forcing some really tough shots. We needed to make the extra pass and be a little more patient.”
Goltz said the Irish got “rattled early” and got into a mode of “playing too fast.”
“We lost our composure at times and against a good team, you can’t give them those little spurts when you don’t make a basket and then they come down score,” Goltz said.
Goltz said “little things” hurt the Irish all night long.
A three-point field goal and then a steal and two-pointer allowed Riverside to pull ahead 20-14 early in the second quarter.
Malone hit a two for Sacred Heart, but the Chargers came right back with a field goal and then four made free throws.
With 5:11 left before halftime, Riverside led 26-16.
Malone hit a two-pointer to stop the run for Sacred Heart, but his shot was answered by the Chargers.
The Irish were able to make up some ground in the final 2:41 of the second quarter as Malone hit a two-pointer and bonus free throw and Logan Scheitel connected from the field, while the Irish held the Chargers scoreless.
At intermission. Riverside led 28-23.
The Irish kept trying to answer Riverside’s offensive output in the third period, but had trouble doing so.
Riverside opened the quarter with a three-pointer, which Sacret Heart’s Sawyer Kean followed with a field goal.
After a Charger free throw, Jorn connectd from the field for the Irish.
Riverside then hit back-to-back buckets, taking a 36-27 lead with 5:12 left in the third quarter.
Malone and Jorn answered for Sacred Heart with a two-pointer and a three-pointer, respectively.
But then the Chargers made another run.
Riverside hit three straight field goals to go up 42-32 with 2:23 remaining in the period.
Free throws by Jorn and Witt made it an eight-point contest before the Chargers finished out the third-quarter scoring with a field goal.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Riverside held a 10-point lead, 44-34.
Witt opened the final period with a steal and two-point bucket for the Irish.
After a Riverside field goal, Malone connected on a free throw and Witt hit a two-pointer.
The Chargers then ran off seven-straight points, hitting a two, a two-pointer and bonus free throw and then another rshot from the field.
With 2:37 left in the game, Riverside led 53-39.
Although down, the Irish kept battling.
Witt hit a three-pointer and Scheitel sank a free throw to pull back within 10 points.
After a Riverside free throw, Scheitel scored from behind the arc, pulling Sacred Heart within eight points with 30 seconds left in the game.
The Irish outscored the Chargers 7-1 down the stretch, but the deficit was too much to overcome. Henry Arnold hit a two, Malone scored from the field and Scheitel finished off the scoring with a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
Sacred Heart hit six three-pointers in the game, along with 13 twos and a 9-for-16 free-throw performance.
Riverside had five threes and 15 twos and was 10-for-14 from the charity stripe.
Malone led Sacred Heart in scoring with 20 points, including seven two-point goals, one three-point goal and a 3-for-5 performance from the free-throw line.
Bailey Witt finished with 11 points, while Logan Scheitel and Bryant Jorn had nine each and Sawyer Kean and Henry Arnold added two apiece.
The end of the game marked the end of the careers for five Sacred Heart seniors.
“The seniors are an athletic bunch and more than anything, they are just good, quiet leaders,” Goltz said. “They’re not the most vocal guys, but they’re hard workers and go about their business.
“All of them are unassuming guys and the rest of the team followed their lead of working hard and trying to get better each week.”