SUMRALL – The Sacred Heart Lady Crusaders don’t want to make any New Year resolutions. They’re perfectly fine with starting 2019 the way 2018 ended.
Sacred Heart closed out the last calendar year with five straights, then it added its sixth straight victory Friday with a 48-46 overtime win over the Sumrall Lady Bobcats (2-9) to open the new year. Friday marked the first time this season Sacred Heart has beaten a school as big as Sumrall, too.
“We’ve been in some games, but I’d say this is the biggest one start to finish,” Sacred Heart coach Caleb Vaughan said. “We just finished. We just played and I’m really proud of the girls tonight.”
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After starting the season 3-6 overall, the Lady Crusaders are now 9-6 with a game against Vancleave Saturday. The region schedule begins Tuesday with a road game to Salem.
“We have a really good group. Don’t give me too much credit,” Vaughan said.
Offensively, Sacred Heart wants to run with the ball, but it does have some hot-handed 3-point shooters. Freshman Mallory Gilbertson is the team’s best shooter, and she nailed six 3-point shots in Friday’s win, which included two big ones in overtime to create enough separation to earn the win.
Gilbertson finished with a game-high 25 points, while eighth-grader Avery Smith and freshman Gracie Falla also contributed from behind the 3-point line.
“Mallory can shoot the cover off the ball,” Vaughan said. “Now, she’s had a couple of games where she’s struggled, but show me a shooter who doesn’t. She hit two big ones to start overtime, and that was the difference. I’ll put her up against anyone around here shooting the basketball.”
While the Lady Crusaders can pour it in from 3, Vaughan really wants to see his team create offense in transition. As soon as Sacred Heart collects a rebound, loose ball or takes the ball out after an opponent score, players like Falla are looking to get up the court quickly with long passes and runs down the sideline.
“We’ve had several opposing coaches scream, ‘They’re just pitching it up the right side,’ and they’re actually right,” Vaughan said. “We’re not going to beat anybody in a foot race, but we just pride ourselves on consistently running every single time.”
None of this is new for the team, though. Vaughn has wanted the Lady Crusaders to run fast breaks and make 3-point shots all season, but things are finally clicking.
Defensively, Sacred Heart played a stout 1-2-2 zone defense against Sumrall that forced a lot of turnovers and missed shots throughout the contest. Sacred Heart will apply a full court press, then fall into a trap defense in the half court.
The defense hasn’t always worked successfully, but it’s working well during the six-game winning streak the Lady Crusaders are riding.
“We haven’t been very good at it, but in the last couple of games the girls are starting to understand their rotations,” Vaughan said. “We still have a long ways to go. I almost lost my mind when we didn’t get the sideline cutoff a couple of times (Friday).”
With all of the success, there are still some struggles for the team. Free throws have been an issue, as well as simple wide-open layups. In one loss this season, Sacred Heart missed 26 free throws but only lost by seven. However, in a recent win, it missed 28 free throws but won.
“The good news is, we get (free throws and wide open layups) every night,” Vaughan said. “We get free throws and wide open layups if we’re running. Free throws and layups, that’s what we’re living and dying by, and in the last six games, we’ve made enough of them to survive.”
In the boys’ contest, Sumrall pulled away early and cruised to a 48-31 over the Crusaders (1-13). The Bobcats improve to 6-6 this season and they’ll travel to Purvis Tuesday. The girls’ game will tip at 6 p.m. and the boy’s game will follow.