While it wasn’t the prize they coveted, in the surroundings they found so pleasant and comfortable a year ago, the Class D2 third-place trophy did indeed provide a reasonable amount of much-needed consolation to a Falls City Sacred Heart girls’ basketball team stinging from a third heart-breaking semifinal loss in four years.
The top-seeded, top-ranked and defending Class D2 champions at the Bob Devaney Sports Center lost an early 11-point lead and hopes of a repeat with a 43-39 loss to eventual champion Wynot, which advanced to its seventh state final in a row. Just as it did to the Irish in 2012 and 2014, Wynot ratched up the defensive pressure, got the train moving downhill and FCSH couldn’t find a way to pump the brakes. The Blue Devils stole the momentum during a third-quarter run and then iced the game in the final period, hitting 13-of-16 foul shots. They went on to beat 2015 D1 champion St. Mary’s, 41-40, on a game-winner to capture a fifth D2 title in six years.
Wynot, obviously, was intimately familiar with its Saturday surroundings. And so, too, were the Irish with theirs. Not 16 hours after leaving the Devaney Center Friday, Sacred Heart had to muster the will to fight another battle. And, as they’ve done three times in the last four years, the girls in green answered the bell and did so with authority. Junior guard Lexi Barnes drained a trio of three-point attempts in the second half as FCSH hammered Sandhills-Thedford 55-36 to relish some consolation, hoist another trophy and make a small statement. The best team doesn’t always win and the Lincoln Journal-Star acknowledged as much Monday, ranking FCSH No. 2 in its final poll. Regardless of what may be engraved on that trophy, this team, which finished 26-2 and posted a 54-4 record the past two seasons, all year was far better than the third-best team in D2, with the exception of a frustrating stretch of time Friday.
“You just have to keep reminding yourself that we won 26 games, won the holiday tournament, won MUDECAS, the conference and districts – and finished by winning that consolation game, too, which is very hard to do,” Coach Luke Santo said. “But it hurts. There’s no shame in placing third; we came back, but we’ll always think, ‘what if?’ It’s just hard for everybody.”
There was no “what if’s” Thursday at Lincoln SW High, in a 46-21 manhandling of Wauneta-Palisade in the first round, nor in Saturday’s trouncing of Sandhills. And, early on, it looked like Friday’s game with Wynot would unfold similarly. Sophomore Abby Fiegener came off the bench and scored five early points, All-Stater Maggie Goltz drained her first shot, and Lauren Parrish, Haylee Heits and Sara Wertenberger all were involved in the offense, as FCSH smoothly broke Wynot’s full-court press and effective got the ball to the block, where they’re size advantage was off the charts (Sacred Heart owned a 2-to-1 rebounding edge in the game, if you want proof). The Irish bolted out to a 16-5 lead early in the second period.
“The girls did a great job early and we had a mismatch inside,” Santo said. “We knew they’d press, but I really felt like we should’ve stretched that lead some and we didn’t. And once they get the momentum going their way, they feed off it. And we turned it over too much.”
Wynot’s Cortney Arkfeld hit three shots, one a three-pointer, to get her team back in it during the second quarter. FCSH started the second half up four, but a three-pointer by Carissa Kuchta and a trio of scoring plays by Danielle Wieseler, assisted by seven Irish turnovers, completely turned the tide in the third quarter. Goltz hit two shots in the period and that was the extent of FCSH’s offense. With a healthy eight-point lead, Wynot got some help from the officials, who put the Blue Devils on the stripe 26 times – to the Irish’s eight free throw attempts. Wynot scored 18 points from the foul line in the second half alone.
Saturday’s redemptive win, however, gives Coach Luke Santo and FCSH a perfect 4-0 mark in the emotionally difficult consolation game since its inception in 2008. Since Santo took over in 2006, the program has won nearly 86 percent of its games and advanced to state nine times (six times they returned home with hardware). The Lady Irish produced a tremendous 106-12 record the past four years and ended each one of those seasons with a win and NSAA trophy.
Wynot – Carissa Kuchta 13, Cortney Arkfeld 11, Danielle Wieseler 11, Skylar Arkfeld 6, Madelynn Gartner 2.
FCSH–Haylee Heits 14, Maggie Goltz 14, Jade Hill 6, Lexi Barnes 5.
Team fouls–Wynot 14, FCSH 18.
Turnovers–Wynot 8, FCSH 18.