FC Sacred Heart senior Bailey Witt made his way to the free throw line a staggering 15 times after halftime Thursday night at Prichard Auditorium, and scored nine of his team-high 14 points on uncontested looks, as the Irish earned a 50-46 come-from-behind victory over Johnson-Brock.
The Irish, which had lost three games in a row entering the week, snapped that funk with victories at Wymore Tuesday (48-30) and over Johnson-Brockin overtime to gain some much-needed momentum entering this week’s Pioneer Conference Tournament held at Humboldt and Friend. FCSH, now 10-6 on the year, was supposed to face the winner of Pawnee City-Southern at 6 p.m. tonight at HTRS, but weather has pushed that back to 6 p.m. Wednesday. If the second-seeded Irish win that one, it’ll be either Sterling or Lewiston in Thursday’s 6 p.m. semifinal at Friend. The title is slated for 8 p.m. Saturday at Friend. NC Lourdes, 14-4 and winners of five in a row, including a huge road win at FC High Friday, is the top seed and should be there waiting.
After opening the year with four wins — including W’s over current 16-3 Sterling and an 18-point win over a solid HTRS team — the Irish have played less than consistent basketball. They lost heart-breakers to 16-2 Elmwood-Murdock and Freeman in the span of a week over the holidays, but truly hit the skids after opening MUDECAS with a second win over HTRS, getting blown out by Freeman and Lourdes and three days later losing by nine at home to a .500 Pawnee City team. The team’s highest offensive output during that stretch was 40 points.
But last week the Irish seemed to get untracked — in the first half at Southern, and midway through the second quarter against Johnson-Brock. At Wymore, playing without 6-4, 300-pound behemoth Bryant Jorn, who was sick most all week, FCSH turned in an impressive first 16 minutes, taking a 34-23 lead into intermission. Senior Henry Arnold was too fast for the Raiders, getting in transition for 11 first quarter points and 16 (of his game-high 20) in the first half. In the second half, freshman point guard Drew Bippes scored five in the fourth, finishing with 11 points and five team-high steals, as FCSH turned on the cruise control. Southern had seven points the entire second half. Arnold was 8-of-10 shooting and 4-of-7 at the line; he also pulled down a team-high six boards. Witt took just two jumpers, but recorded eight assists and four steals.
He was called upon to do quite a bit more two nights later at home at Prichard. An 8-8 Johnson team that is athletic and much more dangerous than its record would indicate jumped out on top of Sacred Heart, building an eight-point lead, 17-9, midway through the second quarter. But Jorn rumbled off the bench and hit a trio of big shots and Witt drained a three from the corner – his only shot attempt the entire half – and spurred an Irish comeback. FCSH cut it to two, 24-22, by halftime, and then Witt and the Irish front court flexed their muscles and imposed their will inside, repeatedly taking it to the hole and drawing the foul. Johnson’s two top big guys, Devon Clark (game-high 16 pts.) and Trey Stutheit (11), were saddled with four fouls in overtime, and another starter, junior Jaxson Balm, finished the game with three. Witt was often on the receiving end of the contact; he drained all four of his free throw attempts in the third quarter and went to the line eight times in overtime, making just half, but doubling Johnson’s output all the while.