The first-seeded Falls City Sacred Heart Irish (23-3) began their quest to repeat as NSAA Class D2 state champions Thursday morning as they defeated the eighth-seeded Leyton Warriors (16-5) 64-30. The Warriors were the ultimate underdog making just their fourth-ever state tournament appearance and their first since 1983.
Senior center Macy Keller started things for the Irish, hitting a mid-range shot to give them their first points of the day. Leyton sophomore forward Sydney Fortune responded with a contested layup.
Both defenses had a great start to the game, forcing multiple turnovers on both sides. Warrior sophomore guard Zaili Benish showed why she was one of the best players on the court. The 22.3 PPG scorer hit a flashy floater after a nice crossover. Sacred Heart’s leading scorer Jessica Wertenberger responded as the senior guard took a steal all the way to the basket for a layup.
It was all Irish at the end of the first quarter, with sophomore guard Jentry Lechtenberg scoring four straight and junior guard Makinley Scholl hitting a shot right before time expired to give Sacred Heart the 14-7 lead after one.
Both teams were very physical in the second quarter, trading and-ones. The three-point line was also active, with Benish and Sacred Heart’s Olivia Eickhoff draining deep shots. However, the Irish were able to extend their lead and take a 28-16 lead heading into the half.
Sacred Heart started the second half hot, with back-to-back steals resulting in Irish layups. Banish gave the Warriors some life hitting a three to make the score 34-19.
Wertenberger and Lechtenberg were unstoppable in the third quarter, doing it all on both sides of the court. The Warriors looked like they would finally have a good play after a Benish steal, but Eickhoff was able to chase her down and get an impressive block. Sacred Heart ended the third quarter up 43-22.
The Irish did not let their foot off the break, starting the fourth on a 14-0 run, forcing several turnovers. Benish hit a three with 3:59 left in the fourth to end the Warrior drought. After both teams cleared their bench, Sacred Heart emerged victorious 64-30.
Wertenberger and Lechtenberg were phenomenal, scoring 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Irish defense had abundant steals, completely locking down the Warrior’s offense in the second half.
Benish had a productive day for Leyton despite the loss, scoring 19 points, including all the Warrior’s fourth-quarter points. The Warrior’s season may be over, but they should have nothing to be ashamed of as they made all of Dalton, Nebraska, proud, making their first state tournament appearance in 40 years.
Sacred Heart advances to the semifinals, where they will face the fifth-seeded Humphrey St. Francis Flyers in a rematch of the past two state championship games.