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Sacred Heart girls lock up Class D district title

MCBAIN - The Sacred Heart High School girls basketball team won its second consecutive Class D district title Friday evening as it beat Big Rapids Crossroads by a final score of 46-34 at McBain Northern Michigan Christian.

“We played really well and I'm really proud of the girls’ effort tonight,” remarked Irish head coach Damon Brown. “It was a total team effort. Not one person wins this game for us, it takes everyone on the floor and on the bench to make it happen and we did that tonight.”

Although Sacred Heart (16-5) won the game relatively easily, the narrative looked much different early as both teams struggled on offense. Neither side looked comfortable attacking the opponent’s zone defense which forced several turnovers and transition opportunities each way. The Irish' defense was especially dominant as the rotation speed of their guards made it difficult for Big Rapids Crossroads to even get into its offensive sets.

Unfortunately, Sacred Heart was not able to take advantage of its stellar defense and the turnovers it created as the whole team was in an offensive funk. The team struggled to find the right passes and made several turnovers of its own when it tried to force the ball inside. When it wasn't turning the ball over Sacred Heart was able to get open looks at the basket, but the shots weren't falling. Tied at 12 however, with just over one minute to play in first half, the Irish were finally able to capitalize on a few of their opportunities, going on a mini four-point run over the final minute to take a slim 16-12 lead into the halftime intermission.

“Early on we had some nerves and had trouble finding our rhythm,” said Brown after the game. “They threw that zone defense at us and we weren't expecting it so it took us awhile to get used to it. We had to make some adjustments and we were able to calm down. As we got to the end of the second quarter and into the third we began to get our rhythm.”

In the third, Sacred Heart looked like a totally different team, doubling its first-half point total and pushing the lead into double digits as it took control of the game. The Irish looked to have worked out their first half offensive woes, taking much better care of the ball and finally finding avenues in which to probe the Crossroad defense and get the ball inside.

“Coming out of halftime we finally got comfortable on offense. We were able to get the ball into Averi Gamble a little bit more and that was the turning point.” said Brown. “We know once we get the ball to Gamble we can work inside out and that kind of gets us rolling cause she can kick the ball out and create opportunities for her teammates.”

On the defensive side, the Irish were not as dominant as they had been in the first half.

The Cougars had made some adjustments of their own and were able to get more open looks, but those looks often came from long range as Sacred Heart refused to let the ball inside. Although its offense did look better, Big Rapids Crossroads wasn’t able to convert enough of its three-point attempts to keep pace the Irish and the lead continued to grow.

In the fourth, down 16 points, Big Rapids Crossroads looked like it might have a glimmer of hope left as it converted consecutive threes to cut the margin to 10 points. That however, was as close as it would get as Sacred Heart turned up the pressure defensively and drained the clock on offense as it held on for the win and district crown.

“It’s really exciting,” said senior guard Sara Hansen, who led the way for the Irish, scoring 13 points to go along with three assists and an impressive seven steals. “Winning last year was my first district title and now we want to get to where we got last year and hopefully get past it.”

Along with Hansen, Gamble also played well as she scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while junior forward Riley Terwilliger had 13 points, including eight points in the third quarter to help the Irish open up the score.

Clearly satisfied with the result, Hansen is optimistic of her team’s chances going forward but knows that if Sacred Heart is to advance on through regional play it cannot afford to start as slow offensively if it did against Big Rapids.

“We need to stop playing nervously in the beginning of games and come out with confidence. At the end of the regular season we were playing really well and if we can get back the confidence we had at the end of the regular season we are going to be tough to beat.”

Coach Brown agreed with Hansen and added that, “We have to do a better job rebounding. We didn’t rebound the ball well tonight at all. And we need to continue to execute our offense. With Averi and Sara we have seen a little bit of everything this year. We have to be mindful to see what teams are going to do against us, be patient and execute from there.”

With the victory Sacred Heart now moves on to the regional tournament next week where it will try to successfully defend last season's regional title.

The Irish face Manistee Catholic Central on Tuesday night in Class D regional action from Big Rapids Crossroads. Tip time is scheduled for 6 p.m.



Last Updated: 2/28/2014 10:25:22 PM EST

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