COLUMBIA — When the fourth quarter began, the Sacred Heart boys basketball team was in the unfamiliar position of trailing.
When it ended, they were celebrating as the Gremlins came out strong to open the fourth quarter and claimed the Class 2 state championship with a 61-45 win over Iberia on Saturday night.
The Gremlins got off to a slow start, trailing 12-3 at one point, and an Iberia run late in the third gave the Rangers a 38-33 lead heading into the final quarter, but Sacred Heart got two quick 3-pointers from Keyaire Marshall and soon were back in the lead.
When the buzzer sounded, the Sacred Heart players celebrated on the court, having capped off a perfect 31-0 season with the first boys basketball state championship in school history.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” said coach Steve Goodwin. “It’s wonderful for Sedalia, Mo. This was very similar to the West Platte quarterfinal game. We had to struggle and find a way because they are so much bigger than us. We knew it would be a struggle. I thought we showed true heart and determination to find a way to win a very hard game for us to play.”
The Gremlins celebrated on the court to a chorus of cheers from classmates and fans.
“These past few games, they’ve really stepped it up and they’ve been big for us,” said junior guard Chase Lyles. “Just the hype that they bring to the stadiums that we play in, there’s nothing like it. Winning that for them was the best part of my high school career so far.”
How it ended
When the fourth quarter started, Iberia took as much time off the clock as they could on the first few possessions, in an effort to make their five-point lead stand up. But a Stefan Cox steal led to a Lyles free throw. Another steal by Cox fed Marshall’s first 3-pointer that cut the Rangers’ lead to 38-37. Immediately after that basket, Lyles and Marshall trapped Iberia star Darrien Dickey and forced a traveling violation. A pair of Jimmy Villalobos free throws put Sacred Heart in the lead, and after Garrett Strange pulled down a defensive rebound, Marshall found Lyles on the fast break for a layup to finish off the 7-0 run.
“They really picked up the pressure,” said Iberia coach Steve Scholfield. “We didn’t handle it very well. We were supposed to spread the floor and make back cuts against their pressure, and we just didn’t do it.”
After Dickey hit a layup to cut the Gremlins’ lead to 41-40, Marshall answered immediately with a 3-pointer. Villalobos added a pull-up jumper moments later, and Sacred Heart iced the game by hitting 15 of 18 free throws down the stretch.
“Give Sacred Heart the credit, they just made more plays than we did,” Scholfield said. “Tried to get back with fouling and they made free throws. That’s why they’re an undefeated team.”
Even when the game was coming down to free throws on Sacred Heart’s end, the Gremlin defense wasn’t letting up. The last 11 Ranger possessions resulted in two field goals, both in the paint from 6-10 center Dexter Frisbie, while Marshall, Strange and Lyles each made steals.
Sacred Heart’s defense made 10 steals in the game as Iberia turned the ball over 18 times. Cox and Marshall each had three steals in the game. Villalobos added two more as defense carried the Gremlins through early shooting woes.
“I thought it was one of the guttiest things I’ve ever seen in my coaching career, the way they had to play defense against a fantastic Iberia team,” Goodwin said.
Marshall, given the job of slowing down 6-2 senior guard Dickey, was particularly strong on defense. Dickey scored 34 points in Thursday’s semifinal win over Canton, including the buzzer-beating tip-in to win the game, and he averaged 18.4 points per game. In the state championship game, Dickey scored 12.
“We came into the game thinking if we held Dickey to 20 points, we were going to win it,” Lyles said. “It’s amazing. We praised (Marshall) in the locker room because we didn’t expect that outcome. He just played his butt off and hit a couple big shots at the end.”
Marshall’s defensive effort even impressed the man he was guarding.
“He did a great job on me,” Dickey said. “They’re well coached, and I’m sure their coach told him my strengths and weaknesses, and he used them to his advantage.”
Sacred Heart also limited Iberia big-man Frisbie, who scored 18 against Canton and was held to 10 by Sacred Heart. Despite Iberia’s size advantage, the teams were even in rebounding at 31 apiece with Villalobos leading all rebounders with 14.
“I thought Jimmy Villalobos on the glass was phenomenal,” Goodwin said. “Especially in the first half, he kept us energized.”
How it started
The game did not start well for the Gremlins. After Villalobos hit a jumper to tie the game at 2, the Gremlins missed their next 10 shots from the field and turned the ball over once as Iberia rushed out to a 12-3 lead. Cox responded with a 3-pointer, but Dickey and Frisbie added baskets to make it 16-6. Despite the 10-point deficit, there was no panic on the Gremlin bench.
“We are pretty calm as a team,” Cox said. “We’re always settled and Jimmy really stepped up there at the beginning of the game. It was kind of carrying us a bit, so we were never really worried. We knew we had a full game to play.”
Rarely this season have the Gremlins found themselves in that situation. St. Paul Lutheran led 13-6 early in a game in Sacred Heart’s gym Feb. 27, and they trailed several times during a back-and-forth quarterfinal win over West Platte.
“Those games definitely helped,” Cox said. “Any time you’re playing a good team at a stage like this, both teams are going to come out pumped and ready to go. You’ve just got to find your groove. We knew the second half would be ours once the jitters and nerves wore off.”
Sacred Heart scored the final eight points of the quarter, all eight by Villalobos, with the final three coming off a three-point play following a Rangers turnover.
The Gremlins made three of their first four shots of the second quarter, jumpers by Cox and Clint Spangler and a 3-pointer by Lyles to tie the game at 21, but the rest of the quarter they shot 2 of 11 from the field.
“I thought we got some better ball movement in the second quarter,” Goodwin said. “Stefan knocked down a few shots. Chase struggled through the first half. We knew he’d come around because he’s a good player.”
Still struggling on offense shooting 9 of 31 from the field in the first half (29 percent), Sacred Heart turned to defense. Iberia turned the ball over six times in the second quarter, including a steal by Marshall and a Villalobos steal that resulted in a Sacred Heart layup at the other end. Iberia led 27-26 at the half.
“When we got to half down by one, I liked where we were because I didn’t think we’d played all that well yet,” Goodwin said.
The third quarter seemed to get off to a good start for the Gremlins when Cox stole the ball and raced in for a dunk, but the ball popped back out of the net. Sacred Heart came up empty on its next three chances from the field, and the Rangers ran out to a 33-26 lead. A steal by Marshall fed Strange for a layup and Cox added a jumper to make it a 33-30 Iberia lead. After an Iberia basket, Lyles hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 35-33.
Sacred Heart came up empty on the next three possessions, and Iberia jumped out to a five-point lead at the end of the third quarter, but in the fourth, the Gremlins’ shooting form returned and the defense stayed strong, leading Sacred Heart to a 28-point fourth quarter and a state championship.
“It was a struggle from the opening tip,” Goodwin said. “Their energy was great. Iberia is a fantastic team, very athletic. I thought they were a step quicker than us early in the ballgame before we got our feet beneath us. I thought we withheld a huge run from them in the second quarter. I liked where we were at half. I know the games that they’ve had, we were hoping to get them to the second half and then when we got them to the second half, I thought we hit some huge shots.”
Lyles finished with 19 points. Villalobos had 16 points. Cox added 13 points.