By Mike Phillips
Who the heck are these guys? Malik Hackett, Garrett Strange, Riley Simmons, Clint Spangler and Chase Lyles?
They happen to be the newest and pretty young version of the Sacred Heart Gremlin basketball team who have stepped forward to fill the spot left by the graduated Caleb Morrison, Jared Dey, Lakin Kehde, Chris Pottorff and Stefan Cox, who opted to finish his high school career with a traveling team in Indiana.
The brand new group of Gremlins decided to grab a little piece of their own success, sweeping three games in the Sacred Heart Boys Tournament, surviving a back-and-forth battle to knock off the Grain Valley Eagles 54-48 in the championship game Saturday night.
Earlier in the week, Sacred Heart beat the Marshal Owls 63-52 and the Sherwood Marksmen 77-71.
Not only were the Gremlin starters new, so were the many reserves that 15th-year head Gremlin coach Steve Goodwin sent onto the floor. Freshmen Charlie Wendt, Chance Spangler, Will Prenger, and Kolin Brace all saw time, as did sophomores Ben Smeltzer and Mason Kelchner.
Both Sacred Heart and Grain Valley appeared tight and nervous right off the opening tip.
It took Sacred Heart over three minutes to get on the board on back-to-back baskets by Malik Hackett, a transfer from Marshal, to put the Gremlins on top 4-0.
“I knew it would be a battle because Grain Valley is a good team and they are well coached,” said Goodwin, whose team is off to a 3- start. “It’s always a tough game for us when we play them.”
Saturday night marked the third straight year that the Gremlins have downed the Eagles in the championship game of the Sacred Heart Boys Invitational.
It took Grain Valley over five minutes to score to get within 4-2.
Hackett knocked down the first of his three treys to give Sacred Heart a 7-2 lead. Baskets by Strange and Chance Spangler opened the Gremlin lead to 11-4.
The Eagles, who finished 1-2 in the tournament, closed within 11-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Grain Valley took their first lead at 16-15 midway through the second quarter as both teams struggled to score and turnovers mounted on both sides.
The Eagles pushed their lead to 19-15 before Clint Spangler hit a jumper from the side of the lane and Hackett nailed his second trey late to give Sacred Heart a 25-20 lead.
Grain Valley closed the gap to 24-23 at the half.
“I know our guys could do this, they are young and inexperienced,” said Goodwin, as rivers of sweat ran down his face. “I believe in them.”
This year’s group had to practice against those great Gremlin teams of the past for at least one year, giving them great experience.
The team resembled those of the past, diving on the floor and using their speed to get easy shots.
The two teams swapped the lead six times in the third quarter and the game was tied six times. The Eagles took a 39-38 lead to the fourth quarter.
A basket by Strange two minutes into the fourth quarter topped off an 8-2 Gremlin run to open up a 46-41 lead.
Grain Valley came right back, closing within 44-42 and it came down to free throws.
That was not a good sign as the Gremlins made 16 of 26 from the stripe in the game. Could they handle the pressure down the stretch?
“I knew they would make them” said Goodwin. “I just believe in this team.”
Strange made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:57 to play to make it 48-44. Kelchner missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 59 seconds left.
Lyles made the front end with 35 seconds left to make it 49-46. Lyles made two from the stripe with 25 ticks left to put the game on ice at 51-46.
Clint Spangler made one of two with 11 seconds left and Simmons sank two from the charity stripe with three seconds left and the celebration started three seconds later.
Hackett led Sacred Heart with 20 points and Strange had 10. Senior Blake Hottel led Grain Valley with 15 points.
Grain Valley took second in the tournament, Sherwood third and Marshal fourth. Photos by Randy Kirby, Sedalia News Journal.