Sacred Heart competes for Class A title

by Mark Oliver

It was just the way that a state championship game should be: a close score, thousands of screaming fans and a story that will be shared for a lifetime.

It was an experience that the Sacred Heart Rebels would never forget as they faced Mammoth Springs for the Class A title on Saturday at Summit Arena in Hot Springs.

“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” said coach Aaron Duvall. “There were more than 4,000 people in attendance, which is quite a contrast to our home gym, which holds about 550. Sacred Heart had about twice as many fans as Mammoth Springs and actually sold out of the adult tickets that the school received before the game.”

Unfortunately, it did not have the ending the Rebels hoped for, as they lost 42-39.

Having reached the team’s season-long goal, the Rebels (34-9, 7-1 1A-5 West) knew that defeating Mammoth Springs would not be easy. From the opening tipoff, Mammoth Springs started strong, scoring seven straight points and putting the pressure on the Rebels. Sacred Heart tied the game with a 7-0 run of its own and regained its confidence. For most of the game, the Rebels and Bears kept the score close, with neither team leading by more than five points.

“One of the biggest challenges Mammoth Springs posed was their two really good post players,” Duvall said. “We have played against good post players this year, but never two on the same team. They were also really physical inside, which was tough for us to combat.”

Sacred Heart fans watch as the Rebels lose to Mammoth Springs in the state championship game played Saturday in Hot Springs. (Janna Virden photo)

Early in the fourth quarter, the Rebels took a four-point lead — their biggest of the night. However, the Bears answered with back-to-back three-point shots from Matthew Turnbough to regain the lead. With three minutes to play, the Rebels took the lead back and planned to stall out the clock and force the Bears to foul. However, during that time, Sacred Heart’s leading scorer, Ryan Sutton, fouled out. Then, with less than a minute remaining and the Rebels up by one point, Sacred Heart committed a turnover, giving Mammoth Springs a chance to regain the lead.

“We turned it over and [the Bears] hit a basket inside with 25 seconds left,” Duvall said. “We had the ball for the last shot, but turned it over again, leading to a layup for the Bears.”

The layup, from Mammoth Springs’ Wayne Coffey, put the Bears up by one point. The basket would be the deciding blow in the Bears’ 42-39 victory.

Though the team fell just short of its state championship glory, Sacred Heart holds its head high and takes a valuable lesson with it into next season.

“It was heartbreaking, but I think that we learned a lot this year,” Duvall said. “When goals are set and people believe in those goals, great things can be accomplished. Hopefully, we can continue this momentum from the year and use it to make a run next year.  We have a lot of talent coming back, and we know that if we can just make it back to the state tournament, anything can happen.”