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MUDECAS HOOPS

MUDECAS hoops: Why Johnson-Brock's Sandfort couldn't miss two game-changing FTs; Palmyra boys turn to defense

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BEATRICE — Audrey Sandfort needed to make two free throws with 16 seconds remaining to knot the game.

The Johnson-Brock senior also needed to knock them down or else hear about it at home.

"Kind of had that thought, my dad at home, he's going to yell at me if those don't go in," Sandfort said.

Sandfort indeed hit both free throws to send a MUDECAS A Division girls tournament semifinal game against Class D-1 No. 8 Southern into overtime, and that sparked a 43-38 Eagle victory Thursday at Beatrice City Auditorium.

The Eagles (11-2) will play Class D-2 No. 1 Falls City Sacred Heart in Friday's 8:15 p.m. championship game after the Irish cruised to a 48-20 win against Parkview Christian in the other semifinal matchup.

Johnson-Brock trailed by as many as four points in the fourth quarter of a defensive battle that saw both offenses handcuffed by zone defenses. But the Eagles battled back and tied the game on Sandfort's free throws.

Southern (12-2), which got a great fourth-quarter effort and 21 total points from junior Callie Cooper, didn't get a clean look for the final shot of regulation.

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Johnson-Brock coach Mitchell Atkinson said Sandfort, a captain, was the right player to have on the line late in the game.

"I obviously knew this was something big I had to do, that it was either this or we might not win," Sandfort said. "I just knew I had to put them in."

Johnson-Brock has lived up to its No. 1 tournament seeding and will go for its first MUDECAS championship — A or B Division — since 2000 when the Eagles won B.

"It's a big deal for these girls," Atkinson said. "We put a lot of work in the summer, they've been working hard every day after school. It means a lot for the community and these girls to get to the finals."

Before the season started, the Eagles talked about wanting to earn three medals in 2021-22 — a state tournament medal, a conference tournament medal and a MUDECAS medal.

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They'll get a shot at medal one of three Friday.

"We've slowly been working our way and this will be one down on the list if we can get there," Sandfort said.

Falls City Sacred Heart (11-3), a year after winning MUDECAS, is back in the final. The Irish seniors won their first MUDECAS title last year as juniors, and now they're looking to go for two in a row. FCSH has won six titles here since 2013.

"That's something we talk about when we start the year in November," FCSH coach Luke Santo said. "We want to win our holiday tournament, MUDECAS in January. We have so much respect for this tournament and everything it stands for, so just to be back in the final and have that opportunity, it's good and it's special for these seniors."

Senior Erison Vonderschmidt had a game-high 14 points for the Irish, who closed the first half on a 24-0 run. The Irish made sure to immediately crowd Parkview post player Kerolene dos Santos, who had five points, when she touched the ball.

Palmyra advances to boys final

Palmyra won a B Division championship at last year's MUDECAS Tournament. Now the Panthers are a victory away from taking the A Division.

Senior Andrew Waltke scored 14 points and junior Hunter Pope added 12 to lead Palmyra to a 48-44 win against Class D-2 No. 1 Falls City Sacred Heart in the boys semifinals.

Palmyra (8-4) jumped to a 10-point lead at halftime and then relied on defense to fend off the Irish, who got to within two after three quarters and had two chances to tie the game with threes in the final seconds.

"We got a bunch of kids that have played a lot of basketball," Palmyra coach Zach Wemhoff said. "We can score points (but) our emphasis has been playing defense, and I thought our boys stepped up."

Senior Brogan Nachtigal had 18 points for the Irish (10-3).

Palmyra will be looking for its first A Division title at MUDECAS since 1989.

The Panthers will play Freeman in Saturday night's final. The Falcons advanced with 46-35 win against Tri County. Freeman won the season opener against Palmyra 40-36.

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.

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