The countdown continues for the Sacred Heart Gremlins.
“When we talk to the kids, we say ‘there’s seven left,’ ‘there’s six left,’ ‘there’s five left,’ ‘there’s four left,’ ” said coach Steve Goodwin. “Now there’s one left and it’s going to be against somebody that’s very good.”
That one game remaining is the Class 2 state championship game at 8:10 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena, as the 30-0 Gremlins face 29-1 Iberia. Sacred Heart has a chance to win its first boys basketball state championship. The last team standing in their way, Iberia, won the third-place game last season.
This season, the Rangers had to survive one close call after another to get this far. Down nine entering the fourth quarter in its semifinal against Canton on Thursday, Iberia came storming back, using defense to create transition chances and chip away at the lead. Darrien Dickey finally put them ahead, following his own miss with a putback at the buzzer to send Iberia into the title game with a 66-65 win.
“We drew up a play for a ball screen at the top of the key,” he said. “Riley (Halley) set it for me. I didn’t use it very well, I kind of went wide on it, but the kid backed off me and stood up when I hesitated. I shot the layup, I remember that and the tip, to be honest with you, I kind of blacked out. It’s almost overwhelming.”
It was the fourth game in a row Iberia has found itself in a close one in the final minute. A basket with five seconds left lifted Iberia over Crane 51-50 in the quarterfinals. They needed three overtimes to beat Gainsville in the sectionals and beat Plato 47-41 in the district final.
In the regular season, Iberia didn’t have quite so many close calls, a 77-74 win over Father Tolton and a 71-66 win over Newburg two days later, but those are still two more close games than Sacred Heart played in during the regular season.
The Gremlins’ smallest margin of victory before their three-point win over West Platte in the quarterfinals was 10, accomplished first in a win over Battle on Dec. 5 at the Gremlin Invitational and again in the semifinals of the Kaysinger Conference tournament when Green Ridge cut into what had been a 25-point Sacred Heart lead and got within eight with 30 seconds left.
“We also know that for 30 games, we’ve been a problem for people,” Goodwin said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Both teams have played in the arena where they will take the floor Saturday. Iberia’s win over Father Tolton came at the MFA Oil/Breaktime Shootout on Jan. 26. Earlier that day, Sacred Heart beat Versailles 87-50 on the same floor, a game which the Gremlins led 30-2 with 1:30 left in the first quarter.
Both teams typically make more than half their shots from the field. Iberia has connected on 52 percent of its shots this season to Sacred Heart’s 50 percent. Both teams shot 47 percent in their semifinal wins, and both teams shot better from the field in the second half of those games than they did in the first.
Sacred Heart is the better shooting team from long range. Iberia shot 125 of 371 (34 percent) from 3-point range this season, while the Gremlins hit 193 of 425 (43 percent). Sacred Heart’s 3-point shooting won’t be as big of an advantage against Iberia as it was against semifinal opponent Thayer — Sacred Heart has made 100 more 3-pointers this season than Thayer has attempted — but the Gremlins still have the statistical edge.
“They can shoot the ball,” said Iberia coach Steve Scholfield. “They can press but we’ve seen others. Theirs is right up there with the top of them. We’ll look at some stuff and figure it out. We’re going to have our hands full. I think they’ll have their hands full with us. We’ve got 6-10 (Dexter Frisbie) and a great 6-2 athlete (Dickey), too. We’ll just see what happens.”
The 6-10 Frisbie scored 18 points in the semifinal against Canton, shooting 9 of 13 from the field. Dickey scored 34 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter.
The Gremlin defense is coming off a game in which it held two double-digit scorers in check. Thayer’s Ayden Henry entered the semifinal averaging 10.4 points per game. Against Sacred Heart he scored five. Zach Steed averaged 10.2 points per game for Thayer. The Gremlins limited him to four.
Sacred Heart expects that same kind of defensive effort Saturday.
“We’re going to bring a lot of energy,” Goodwin said. “We’ve done it for 30 games this year against a difficult schedule.”
The last unbeaten team in Missouri was Sikeston, the 2011 Class 4 state champion who went 30-0. The last team to go unbeaten in Class 2 was Sturgeon in 2010. Though Sacred Heart can also finish off an unbeaten season with a win Saturday, Goodwin said it isn’t on the minds of any of the players and has not been talked about in the locker room this season.
“When we have a game that we play poor, we go over it and the end result is did we play good enough, every single night are we playing better,” Goodwin said.
The game tips off at 8:10 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.