O'Keefe keeps winning, Sacred Heart defeats West Bolivar for first ever playoff win

By STAN CALDWELL,

HATTIESBURG – For a guy who until this past December last coached a meaningful game in 2007, Matt O’Keefe hasn’t lost any of his sideline acumen.

 

O’Keefe, a South Mississippi basketball coaching legend who retired in 2007 after a long career that included stops at Perry Central, Petal and Raleigh, was asked at mid-season to take over the girls program at Sacred Heart, where he has taught since his retirement from coaching.

 

And, after an adjustment period, O’Keefe is back to his winning ways. 

 

Three days after the Lady Crusaders stunned Lumberton to win the Region 8-1A Tournament championship, Sacred Heart made more history in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs, defeating West Bolivar 49-36 at the Sacred Heart Gym.

 

Sacred Heart (15-11), which won a 1A playoff game for the first time in school history, will host a second-round contest at 6 p.m. Friday against the winner of Tuesday’s first-round battle between Mount Olive and Ethel. West Bolivar finished its season 13-18.

 

“This was probably our worst game of the season,” said O’Keefe. “We had too many unforced turnovers that hurt us.

 

“I think we expended so much energy in that Lumberton game, that tonight we looked kind of tired and a little flat.” 

 

Nevertheless, the Lady Crusaders rode a vintage effort from sophomore Gracie Falla and stifling team defense to keep the Lady Eagles from getting any offensive momentum.

 

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so we knew we just had to limit our mistake, then get in their way as much possible and limit their shots,” said sophomore Mallory Gilbertson. “It’s great being a part of this team. I love them to death.”

 

It was defense that got Sacred Heart going after West Bolivar hit a pair of 3-point shots – the Lady Eagles’ first two shots of the game – to take a quick 6-0 lead. The Lady Crusaders forced 11 turnovers in the first quarter alone and finished with 25 for the game.

 

“I thought 10 (Akayla Smith) hurt us a little bit driving the baseline,” said O’Keefe. 

 

“But we were trying to matchup with them on the perimeter, and I thought our 1-2-2 press hurt them at times. But then we got a little tired, and we had to get out of it. It’s hard to press a lot when you only have a rotation of six girls.”

 

As long as Falla was on the floor, though, Sacred Heart was in good shape. After West Bolivar took the early lead, Falla hit a pair of medium-range jump shots, then fed junior center Kate Gallardo for an open layup to tie the game 6-6.

 

After each team exchanged one-and-dones at each end, Falla got open for a soft six-footer from the left side to put the Lady Crusaders ahead, and they would never trail again.

 

“I came off the Lumberton game off a little high; that was one of my best games,” said Falla, who finished with 22 points. “We knew we had to come out hot, because it gets tougher from here.

 

“Coach told us before the game that they play a wide 2-3 zone, which means we could penetrate the lane and the open pass would be there. Mallory hit a couple of 3s and everything kind of flowed from there.”

 

Sacred Heart led 12-8 after the first quarter, then Falla and Gilbertson each hit 3-pointers to keep West Bolivar at bay, and the Lady Crusaders led 22-17 at halftime.

 

The two biggest shots of the game came on back-to-back possessions with under two minutes to play in the third quarter. 

 

Leading 29-25, Falla swished a 3-ball from the left corner, then Gilbertson shot one from the same spot that bounced twice off the rim and fell through to give Sacred Heart a 10-point lead.

 

“On those type of shots, you just have to slow it down, and think, ‘all right, we’ve got to run a play right here,’” said Falla. “Either dish to the post player inside or kick out for the open 3. I think we were in an overload on that play and I was wide-open.” 

 

Falla added another trey in the fourth quarter, as the Lady Crusaders never let the Lady Eagles get closer than six points.

 

Gilbertson added 14 points for Sacred Heart. Smith led West Bolivar with 17 points.

 

“We’re very young, with two freshman and two sophomores starting,” said O’Keefe. “They’ve improved every day. I’m really proud of them.” 

 

MHSAA First Round Playoff

Friday at Sacred Heart Gym

CLASS 1A GIRLS

Sacred Heart 49, West Bolivar 36

W. Bolivar       8          9          10        9          –          36

Sacred Heart   12        10        15        12        –          49

WEST BOLIVAR (13-18):Akayla Smith 17, Kelsey Phillips 10, Natalie Calmese 9. TOTALS:FG 13-44 (3FG 5-16) FT 5-11 (36)

SACRED HEART (15-11):Gracie Falla 22, Mallory Gilbertson 14, Sarah Gallardo 7, Kate Gallardo 6. TOTALS:FG 20-54 (3FG 6-13) FT 3-10 (49).

HATTIESBURG – For a guy who until this past December last coached a meaningful game in 2007, Matt O’Keefe hasn’t lost any of his sideline acumen.

O’Keefe, a South Mississippi basketball coaching legend who retired in 2007 after a long career that included stops at Perry Central, Petal and Raleigh, was asked at mid-season to take over the girls program at Sacred Heart, where he has taught since his retirement from coaching.

And, after an adjustment period, O’Keefe is back to his winning ways.

Three days after the Lady Crusaders stunned Lumberton to win the Region 8-1A Tournament championship, Sacred Heart made more history in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs, defeating West Bolivar 49-36 at the Sacred Heart Gym.

Sacred Heart (15-11), which won a 1A playoff game for the second time in school history, will host a second-round contest at 6 p.m. Friday against the winner of Tuesday’s first-round battle between Mount Olive and Ethel. West Bolivar finished its season 13-18.

“This was probably our worst game of the season,” said O’Keefe. “We had too many unforced turnovers that hurt us.

“I think we expended so much energy in that Lumberton game, that tonight we looked kind of tired and a little flat.”

Nevertheless, the Lady Crusaders rode a vintage effort from sophomore Gracie Falla and stifling team defense to keep the Lady Eagles from getting any offensive momentum.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so we knew we just had to limit our mistake, then get in their way as much possible and limit their shots,” said sophomore Mallory Gilbertson. “It’s great being a part of this team. I love them to death.”

It was defense that got Sacred Heart going after West Bolivar hit a pair of 3-point shots – the Lady Eagles’ first two shots of the game – to take a quick 6-0 lead. The Lady Crusaders forced 11 turnovers in the first quarter alone and finished with 25 for the game.

“I thought 10 (Akayla Smith) hurt us a little bit driving the baseline,” said O’Keefe.

“But we were trying to matchup with them on the perimeter, and I thought our 1-2-2 press hurt them at times. But then we got a little tired, and we had to get out of it. It’s hard to press a lot when you only have a rotation of six girls.”

As long as Falla was on the floor, though, Sacred Heart was in good shape. After West Bolivar took the early lead, Falla hit a pair of medium-range jump shots, then fed junior center Kate Gallardo for an open layup to tie the game 6-6.

After each team exchanged one-and-dones at each end, Falla got open for a soft six-footer from the left side to put the Lady Crusaders ahead, and they would never trail again.

“I came off the Lumberton game off a little high; that was one of my best games,” said Falla, who finished with 22 points. “We knew we had to come out hot, because it gets tougher from here.

“Coach told us before the game that they play a wide 2-3 zone, which means we could penetrate the lane and the open pass would be there. Mallory hit a couple of 3s and everything kind of flowed from there.”

Sacred Heart led 12-8 after the first quarter, then Falla and Gilbertson each hit 3-pointers to keep West Bolivar at bay, and the Lady Crusaders led 22-17 at halftime.

The two biggest shots of the game came on back-to-back possessions with under two minutes to play in the third quarter.

Leading 29-25, Falla swished a 3-ball from the left corner, then Gilbertson shot one from the same spot that bounced twice off the rim and fell through to give Sacred Heart a 10-point lead.

“On those type of shots, you just have to slow it down, and think, ‘all right, we’ve got to run a play right here,’” said Falla. “Either dish to the post player inside or kick out for the open 3. I think we were in an overload on that play and I was wide-open.”

Falla added another trey in the fourth quarter, as the Lady Crusaders never let the Lady Eagles get closer than six points.

Gilbertson added 14 points for Sacred Heart. Smith led West Bolivar with 17 points.

“We’re very young, with two freshman and two sophomores starting,” said O’Keefe. “They’ve improved every day. I’m really proud of them.”

 

Correction 02/18/20: Sacred Heart won its second playoff game in school. It will be the team's second ever appearance in the second round of the playoffs. 

For more stories by Stan Caldwell go to stanmansportsfan.com.

 

MHSAA First Round Playoff

Friday at Sacred Heart Gym

CLASS 1A GIRLS

Sacred Heart 49, West Bolivar 36

W. Bolivar 8 9 10 9 – 36

Sacred Heart 12 10 15 12 – 49

WEST BOLIVAR (13-18): Akayla Smith 17, Kelsey Phillips 10, Natalie Calmese 9. TOTALS: FG 13-44 (3FG 5-16) FT 5-11 (36)

SACRED HEART (15-11): Gracie Falla 22, Mallory Gilbertson 14, Sarah Gallardo 7, Kate Gallardo 6. TOTALS: FG 20-54 (3FG 6-13) FT 3-10 (49).