COLUMBUS -- This journey started six years ago, when the Scotus Central Catholic seniors were in seventh grade.
That’s when this group of seven girls started playing on the same basketball team.
Their time together ended Saturday with gold medals around their necks after the Shamrocks beat Wahoo Neumann 40-37 in overtime at Pinnacle Bank Arena to win the Class C-1 state title.
“We all had the same goal. We all knew what we were capable of doing. We all wanted this,” Marika Spencer said of the senior class, which also includes Shania Borchers, Maggie Feehan, Kendra Wiese, Grace Wickham, Grace Odbert and Madison Kerkman.
With such a large senior class coming back off a state tournament appearance in 2017, the goal was obvious.
But a late-January loss to Lincoln Christian, in which Scotus surrendered a season high 55 points and lost by 13 points, left the Shamrocks with a 12-5 record. With a rematch likely in the district final against the Crusaders, who had beaten Scotus already earlier in the season, the Shamrocks were in a precarious spot for one of the two wildcard spots to the state tournament.
“We all just knew it was getting toward the end of the season and it was kind of do or die,” Borchers said. “We had to start winning (games) from there on out if we wanted a chance at state.”
So Scotus upped their intensity in practice.
“After that loss, we knew we had to start getting the job done because we knew what we were capable of doing,” Spencer said. “We practiced harder. The freshmen, our ‘B’ team started practicing harder so that we could feel what the competition would be like. Everyone just kind of amped up their pressure.”
The Shamrocks didn’t lose again, ending the season on a 10-game winning streak.
In the district final, Scotus avenged its two losses to Lincoln Christian with a 35-34 win in overtime.
“It showed that we could play with one of the best teams in the state. It showed that if we can beat them, we could beat anybody,” Borchers said.
The Shamrocks came away with a little extra motivation from that game as well. Odbert, who was one of the first players off Scotus’ bench as a defensive specialist, went down in the game with a dislocated knee.
“We weren’t just doing it for ourselves or for our coaches, we were doing it for Grace now because she can’t take part on the court,” Spencer said.
And so the Shamrocks did it. They blasted No. 4 Wahoo 49-32 in the opening round of the state tournament on Thursday, then backed it up with another blow out in the semifinals, this time a 43-26 win over No. 1 Mitchell, which set up a rematch with No. 2 Wahoo Neumann in the championship game.
The Cavaliers had already beaten Scotus 43-40 on a buzzer-beater that season.
Scotus had come too far to let this opportunity slip away. After falling behind 22-15 at halftime, the Shamrocks rallied to tie the game at 34-all with 18 seconds left when Bailey Lehr knocked down a 3-pointer.
In overtime, Scotus knew they had it. After all, they had just done it a couple weeks earlier against Lincoln Christian.
“To be in that situation before, we were like ‘we’ve been here before and we came out on top so we can do it again,’” Borchers said.
And so the senior class finished their journey on top, winning the school’s first state title since 2004. They played their game, their way, never got rattled, and all seven seniors were needed to get the job done.
“We’re all big leaders somehow in different ways,” Kerkman said.
Kerkman, who played the fewest minutes of any of the seniors, hit one of the biggest shots of the season in the subdistrict final against North Bend.
With the Shamrocks trailing the Tigers 26-23 in the fourth quarter, Kerkman hit a game-tying 3-pointer to spark a 10-3 run and propel Scotus to the win.
“I just said to play my hardest and score points for my team and I usually did every time,” she added. “Just try to help the team get the win.”
A loss there would’ve ended Scotus’ season. Kerkman ended the season making more than 47 percent (8 for 17) of her 3-pointers.
Odbert provided a huge motivational boost when she went down with her injury, but prior to that, she always drew the assignment of guarding opposing teams’ best ball-handler. She led the team with 42 steals this season.
Wiese, Feehan and Wickham started at the three guard spots for Scotus. Wiese helped keep the Shamrocks hanging around in the state title game with 10 points on perfect 3-for-3 shooting. Feehan was named to the Class C-1 all-tournament team and was the third-leading scorer in the class during the tournament, averaging 12.67 points per game. For the season, Feehan was second on the team averaging 9.3 points per game.
Wickham set the school record for assists in a season with 114 and made 3-pointers with 25. Most of her assists came from feeding Borchers and Spencer in the post. Borchers averaged 4.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game while Spencer averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
And for the seven seniors, they couldn’t have gotten a better end to their high school basketball careers,
“We all have been playing together for so long and it’s been our goal and we all came together and it just clicked,” Borchers said.