Class 2 boys basketball state champion Sacred Heart was loaded with talent this season.
Stefan Cox averaged 20.3 points per game. Chase Lyles averaged 13.6. Jimmy Villalobos averaged 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds.
At no point did they become a team worried about individual stats. Steve Goodwin’s squad remained focused on the goals of the team.
“He is really good with the mental part of the game,” Cox said. “He did a really good job this year with all the guys we had finding the right spots for us. He’s really good with time and situation and keeping us mentally in the game.”
Sacred Heart reached those goals, winning the Kaysinger Conference tournament and regular-season titles, winning the district championship, avenging last year’s quarterfinal loss to West Platte and going on to win the first state boys basketball championship in school history.
For the players, the wins were more important than who was doing the scoring.
“They had great confidence in throwing the ball into Keyaire (Marshall) or Garrett (Strange) or Clint (Spangler),” Goodwin said. “You throw the ball into Clint, he’s probably going to hit a jump shot. Somebody passes the ball into Garrett, he’s probably going to make a good post move or pass the ball out. There was a lot of confidence in the group.”
The Gremlins still were confident even they went to their bench.
“Every time somebody got in foul trouble, Will Prenger or Kolin Brace would come off the bench and make big shots,” Goodwin said. “Cal Racy, in the time he got to play, he went 100 miles per hour hard. The whole crew did exactly what they were supposed to do for the betterment of the team.”
As the Gremlins closed in on the state final and even after the game, the one thing never talked about in a Sacred Heart huddle was the record. The Gremlins finished the regular season 24-0, were 27-0 after districts and went to Columbia 29-0. Other people may have been talking about the “0” at the end of the record, but Sacred Heart only mentioned how many games they had left.
“There were some games we played bad and won,” Goodwin said. “We never said anything about our record, never mentioned it. There’s too much other stuff to worry about.”
Discussions in Sacred Heart practices turned to who they played next, and how to beat them. They had time to work on the game plan for the sectional against Skyline and five days after the quarterfinal to prepare for Thayer. Goodwin estimated they had enough time to prepare about 75 percent in the off day between the semifinal and the state championship game, but that turned out to be enough.
Iberia guard Darrien Dickey entered the game averaging 18.4 points per game and had scored 34 in the semifinal win over Canton. Sacred Heart’s Keyaire Marshall held him to 12.
“He did a great job on me,” Dickey said after that game. “They’re well coached, and I’m sure their coach told him my strengths and weaknesses, and he used them to his advantage.”
Scouting is one thing the Gremlins came to expect from Goodwin.
“He’ll watch film all night and go out and get film hours away,” Cox said.
There were games when not everything went right. Sacred Heart trailed St. Paul Lutheran after one quarter, withstood a fourth quarter comeback by a tough Green Ridge team and trailed Iberia heading into the fourth quarter of the state championship game.
“We had a couple of bad offensive games, Glasgow for one,” Cox said. “Our defense got us through those games. Coming into the year, we knew what we wanted to do and that starts with defense.”
Goodwin said those wins came from confidence.
“Being down in the quarterfinals is not where you want to be, being down in the fourth quarter of the state championship game is not where you want to be, but they never got panicky,” he said. “That makes me be a little more at ease. I trusted them a lot. As the season went on, (in) our practices we’d work on two or three things and send them home. They did all the right stuff on and off the court.
“I look at is as 10 guys who did everything I asked them and got exactly what they deserve.”