The Sacred Heart Gremlins entered the season looking to move one step further in the postseason than they did a year ago.
Instead, they took three steps to the school’s first boys basketball state championship.
Last year, the Gremlins surprised many by reaching the state quarterfinals where they lost 76-66 to eventual state runner-up West Platte.
This year, they took that next step with a 64-61 victory over West Platte and didn’t stop there.
Next, they routed Thayer 62-39 in the semifinals and pulled away late to beat Iberia 61-45 for the Class 2 state championship.
Not only did they win a state title, but they went undefeated doing it.
The Gremlins (31-0) rolled through the season. Besides a 58-55 win over Grain Valley in their own tournament in December, they beat their opponents by an average of 32 points.
Sacred Heart didn’t allow a team to score more than 79 points (Warsaw) in a game, and only three teams — Warsaw, Battle and Green Ridge — reached 70 against them.
The defensive-minded Gremlins used that same defense to finish off Iberia on Saturday night. Using their pressure and all-out hustle, the Gremlins outscored Iberia 28-7 in the fourth quarter.
Free throws proved critical for the Gremlins, who only shot 50 percent from the foul stripe this season. They made 15 of 18 shots down the stretch Saturday night.
They won despite leading scorer Stefan Cox having an off night – Iberia held him to 13 points, 7.5 below his season average – and facing a much bigger line-up. Iberia featured three players who stand 6-6 or taller – 6-10 Dexter Frisbie, 6-6 Riley Halley and 6-6 Devon Frisbie. Their win over West Platte taught them a few lessons on dealing with a bigger team.
Just like last season, the Gremlins opened the season with question marks. Last year’s leading scorer, Malik Hackett, left the school, and starting point guard Riley Simmons moved to Ozark.
No worries for the Gremlins. Cox, who left Sacred Heart for his junior year and played for a private school in Indiana, returned, and Jimmy Villalobos stepped up to the varsity level. Cox averaged 20.5 points and Villalobos averaged 13.1 points and 10.1 rebounds. Keyaire Marshall stepped into the point guard position, and Chase Lyles, Garrett Strange and Clint Spangler, who were key contributors last season, came back.
Last season, the Gremlins lost two former Democrat Players of the Year (Jared Dey and Caleb Morrison), point guard Lakin Kehde and Cox from a team that went 26-2. They went on to reach the state quarterfinals for the first time in coach Steve Goodwin’s long tenure at Sacred Heart.
So, congratulations to the Gremlins for their accomplishments. Who knows what will happen next season as they face the losses of Cox, Villalobos and Spangler? Knowing Goodwin, he’ll have them ready to compete again at a high level.