Bell's penalty kick helps Sacred Heart capture State Championship


BRANDON – It’s been six long years since the last time Sacred Heart raised the Golden Ball trophy, and on Saturday, the Crusaders ended the skid.

Thanks to a Garrett Bell penalty kick in the 43rd minute, Sacred Heart claimed the 1A/2A/3A State Championship 1-0 over St. Andrew’s. The win completed the Sacred Heart sweep in Saturday’s state championships, as the Lady Crusaders also beat St. Andrew’s to start the day.

“It’s been quite a ride, that’s for sure,” Sacred Heart coach Joe Falla said “A lot of ups and downs. This is great to finally break through again. I was praying for those boys. They needed it, they worked hard for it and they deserve it.”

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Sacred Heart won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, but the Falla-coached team was 0-2 in the last two state championship tries. The Crusaders lost in 2015 and 2018 to add to the frustration.

But, Falla woke up a little differently Saturday morning than he did the past two mornings prior to a state championship game. He knew his team was ready, so he was at ease.

“No doubt,” Falla said. “I was very relaxed. It is what it is. It’s in their hands and I thought we prepared well. It wasn’t our best game, but it was effective.”

It’s been a long 12 months for Sacred Heart, too. The Crusaders’ performance in last year’s state championship left Falla upset with his team’s play. But, he changed up his approach as a coach and how his team went about their business during the season, and it paid off in tune for the program’s third state championship.

After a relatively even first half, Sacred Heart got on the board quickly once the second half started. Sacred Heart's Gabe Naquin was fouled in the box on defense, and that set up a penalty kick try for the Crusaders. Bell stepped up to the ball and drilled it to the right side. The St. Andrew’s keeper didn’t even budge in the ball’s direction either.

“I was nervous,” Bell said. “I was shaking, but with the support of teammates, it kind of calmed me a little bit. The feel of the place got me in the mood.”

Bell was the perfect choice for Falla, but he didn’t make the decision. The players on the field did.

“He’s pretty solid,” Falla said. “I don’t mind him taking it. You know what you get with Garrett. He’s solid. He’s calm, cool and collective. He’s that guy.

“He’s kind of that leader and he’ll take charge, which is great. He stepped up his game this year a whole bunch, and it’s (the players’) decision (to attempt the penalty kick). He buried that thing.”

After three straight years of watching the Lady Crusaders lift the trophy, Bell and his teammates joined the party.

“It’s like a movie,” he said. “We’ve been through so much as a team, up and down the whole way, and it’s just great to have it finally all come together. It’s just like a normal game. We were all ready for it with the great leadership of the seniors.

“This is my first (championship), and I won’t forget it. This one means something.”