The Beloit Trojans ended one of Sacred Heart's long winning streaks last month and snapped two more of them Tuesday night in the Knights' gymnasium.
The third-ranked (3A) Trojans showed off their deep and balanced roster, pulling away from Sacred Heart in the final six minutes and cruising to a 62-40 victory to wrap up their first NCAA league title since 2014.
The loss ended Sacred Heart's streak of four consecutive league championships and a string of 31 straight home league victories. The visiting Trojans had snapped the Knights' 45-game regular season league winning streak on their home floor on January 24.
"It feels pretty great honestly," senior guard Hudson Smith said after his team had posed for league championship team photos on the court. "It's been a long time. It's a great feeling. We weren't saying anything in the locker room. We were just dead focused on what we were about to do. We came out and got it done."
The Trojans, now 17-1 overall and 11-0 in the NCAA, did it with defense. They held Sacred Heart to just 11 field goals, 28.9 percent shooting and a season-low point total.
"I thought all night the defense was the difference," Beloit coach Ryan Eilert said. "They hit some shots early, but they were contested shots and I felt like over the course of the game, our depth kind of wore them out and they had to work for everything they got."
Sacred Heart (13-5, 8-2) never led in the game, but trailed by just six points (43-37) with 5:58 remaining before the Trojans ran away with an 11-0 run. Colin Chandler followed in an offensive rebound, Bryce Mason added a pair of free throws, Hayden Budke buried a 3-pointer, Vincent Palen hit a layup and Smith finished off the run with a pair of free throws. Sacred Heart went 4 1/2 minutes without scoring.
"They're an ideal close-out team," Sacred Heart coach Brian Gormley said. "They have a fast point guard who handles the ball real well and they have two other guys on the wings. They play together and know how to handle it. We were just stuck on thirty-seven way too long."
Balance was the name of the game for the Trojans. Smith (11 points) and Carson Cox (10) were the only players in double figures, but Beloit also got 28 points off the bench and hit 8 of 16 shots from behind the 3-point arc.
"They're very balanced," Gormley said. "You get to the bench and the bench guys come in and number one, obviously they can all contribute to the box score, but two, they give them a different look, a different feel."
The Trojans will savor the league title for a while before wrapping up the regular season against Minneapolis and Smith Center before turning their sights to making a run in the postseason.
"Winning league is always a goal and it's been a few years since we've been able to do it," Eilert said. "This group of kids really set their eyes on it feels good to get it. We've had a lot of good battles with Sacred Heart and you're beating a good team, you're playing a good team and through competition it makes it even more special."
Charlie Skidmore scored 21 points to lead Sacred Heart. The sixth-ranked (2A) Knights will be home Friday night against Republic County for Senior Night.
Beloit girls 46, Sacred Heart 44
Breezy Schroeder's driving layup with 8.8 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as the Trojans held off Sacred Heart to keep a firm hold on second place in the NCAA.
The Trojans (12-6 overall, 7-3 league) got a steal from Jessica Meier with 1:15 left and the game tied. They ran down the clock to 17.9 seconds remaining before calling time out.
Schroeder, a 5-6 senior, then drove the baseline and watched as her layup hung on the rim and then fell in. Sacred Heart never got off a decent look in the final seconds as the Knights dropped to 9-9 and 5-5.
Sacred Heart was playing its first full game without leading scorer Ally Cochran, who went down with a season-ending knee injury Friday night at Council Grove. The Knights were hit by a Beloit blitz in the first few minutes of the game and trailed by 14 points (18-4) at the 0:56 mark of the opening quarter.
"I thought they were going to set some kind of scoring record, but it was our fault," Sacred Heart coach Arnold Schmidtberger said. "We switched some things up and we ended up matching up pretty well. They jumped on us and we had to dig out way out."
The Knights did dig their way out. They got within three points (31-28) with 2:34 left in the third quarter on a three-point play by Hannah Goetz, but Beloit never relinquished the lead. Sacred Heart did get the game tied (44-44) with 2:42 remaining on a 3-pointer by Amber Palen, but neither team scored the rest of the way until Schroeder's game-winning layup.
"We made a few mistakes and it's just magnified when the game is so close," Schmidtberger said. "We had a couple turnovers late, but I'm proud of the effort. We had some kids play different roles tonight and some players who came in to some extremely tense and tight situations, but stepped up and played. We got a lot of mileage out of our kids tonight."
Goetz led Sacred Heart with a game-high 16 points, while Jessica Meier and Shea Larson each had 10 points for Beloit.