COLUMBIA — The Sacred Heart boys basketball team is now just one win away from winning a state championship after it beat Thayer 62-39 in the semifinal on Thursday at the Hearnes Center.
Leading by five midway through the second quarter, Sacred Heart used an 11-4 run to close the half and take a 30-18 lead into the break, then opened the game up further by starting the third quarter on a 14-2 run.
“I thought there were times in the second and third quarter where we played the best basketball of the season,” said Gremlins coach Steve Goodwin.
Defense got the Gremlins off to a good start in the first half. Sacred Heart forced seven turnovers in the first quarter and Garrett Strange had four steals in the first half. For the game the Gremlins had eight steals and forced 17 Bobcat turnovers.
“We have our hands up,” Strange said. “When we’re hands up, nobody gets by us.”
Stefan Cox had a pair of steals and Jimmy Villalobos and Chase Lyles each had one. Sacred Heart scored 14 points in the game on fast break layups.
“In transition they’re really hard to stop,” said Thayer coach Matt Pitts. “That was the first time all year that had been an issue. As athletic as they were and as athletic as we are, they were just plus enough.”
Thayer outrebounded the Gremlins 35-31 in the game and pulled down 15 offensive rebounds, leading to 20 second-chance points. Sacred Heart scored six second-chance points in the first quarter but then had just four the rest of the way.
“All 35 of those we worked for,” Pitts said.
The rebounding edge was 14-13 in the first half before Thayer pulled down 21 rebounds in the second half.
“We’ve still got to block out stronger and harder,” Goodwin said. “We’ve been out sized a lot this year but they understand that. I thought sometimes they got caught watching.”
Cox finished the game with 17 points, hitting 6 of 13 from the field. He also had eight rebounds. Villalobos had 13 points, 11 of them in the second half, and 10 rebounds. Lyles finished with 10 points.
Sacred Heart shot 25 of 53 from the field in the game.
“We knew things would have to go really well for us to stay in the game and they shot the ball really well,” Pitts said. “We didn’t handle the pressure really well early.”
The Gremlins jumped in front thanks to a Villalobos putback and a Cox 3-pointer, hit from the corner with a hand in his face to make it 5-0.
After a pair of Thayer baskets, Villalobos connected again in the paint and Cox hit another 3-pointer to make it 10-4. Clint Spangler and Strange added putbacks and Sacred Heart led 14-8 after one quarter.
“I thought our kids played with a lot of energy, wonderful effort,” Goodwin said. “I thought when we moved the ball well we got shots we wanted.”
In the second quarter, after a quick Thayer basket, Spangler hit a layup and Cox added a jumper. Thayer got a 3-pointer from Jacob Foley to cut the lead to 19-14 but Sacred Heart answered with a Strange jumper and a 3-pointer by Lyles. Late in the quarter, with point guard Keyaire Marshall on the bench in foul trouble, the Gremlin subs came in. Will Prenger hit a jumper and immediately followed that with a steal, feeding Strange for a basket.
“Charlie came off the bench, Charlie Wendt did a nice job for us and we got a big bucket by Will Prenger in the corner,” Goodwin said. “I thought that really turned the game around.”
Sacred Heart opened the third quarter with a Marshall basket.
“He lost a little confidence in his shot the last few ballgames but I thought he’s stepped up and hit some big shots in the third quarter,” Goodwin said.
A pair of baskets by Villalobos followed and after a Cox basket, Cox found Strange in transition for a layup to make it 40-20 Sacred Heart. Villalobos followed that with a 3-pointer.
Taking up nearly half the arena with red shirts, the Sacred Heart supporters made things loud for both teams.
“The reception, the people we’ve got behind us are just unbelievable,” Spangler said. “We had a pep rally (Thursday) and it was just the craziest time. For me personally, four years, we couldn’t get over the sectional hump, last year we couldn’t get over the quarterfinals. We finally made it here and we have more people than you can believe behind us.”
The Gremlins will play in the state championship game at 8:10 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena against Iberia.
In Thursday’s other semifinal, Iberia trailed Canton 24-17 after one quarter and the Canton Tigers kept Iberia at arm’s length, leading by nine heading into the fourth quarter when Iberia mounted a comeback. Iberia trailed 65-64 with 10.3 seconds left when Darrien Dickey followed his own miss and hit a putback at the buzzer to put Iberia in the championship game.