SPRINGFIELD, MO -- The Irish came into the the 2018 Blue & Gold with a target on their back. During the 2017 tournament the Irish were able to play the upset role, taking out #1 seed Republic in the finals. This year, the Irish received the #1 seed with Class 5 Ozark and Republic following respective at #2 and #3.
In game one the Irish faced the Bears of Ava. The Bears had a scrappy, young team but could not keep up with the veteran Irish squad. Catholic jumped out to a 10-point lead after the first quarter and extended the lead to 20 by halftime. The Irish sealed up the victory with a 26-point 3rd quarter.
The Irish advanced to the second round where they would face #8 seed and former COC Small foe Bolivar. This was a game that many knew would be tough as the Liberators did not get a favorable seed. After the seeds were released, Bolivar traveled to Ozark where the beat the Tigers by 24 on their home court. The Irish started out the game and built a 4-point lead after the first quarter but Bolivar returned the favor in the second sending the teams to halftime tied up at 24 apiece. The Liberators would come out strong after half, building their largest lead of the night (5) just two minutes into the quarter. The Irish answered quickly with a Jake Branham 3-pointer and built a 4-point lead of their own by the end of the 3rd. The Irish would hold that lead and add to it by holding the Liberators to 0/8 from the 3-point line and 14% from the field in the 4th. The game was hard-fought and ugly at times but the Irish would prevail and move on to face Camdenton in the 3rd round.
The Irish looked to bounce back from the defensive struggle against Bolivar and were able to do so and then some against the Lakers of Camdenton. The Irish started off somewhat slow in this contest, watching the Lakers build a 12-6 lead with 3:21 remaining in the first. But then the flood gates opened and the Irish drained 5 three-pointers before the end of the quarter to take a 23-15 lead. The Irish would never look back, scoring 24 and 25 points in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The 91 points scored would be the 2nd highest total of the season and highest output for the entire Blue & Gold tournament.
The third round victory would award the Irish with a finals matchup with the Ozark Tigers. Ozark advanced through the bottom of the bracket by beating Buffalo, Stockton, and Republic by a margin of 2-points. The Irish felt good coming off the win over Camdenton and felt they could win the tournament, however they knew they could not overlook Ozark. Ozark played the tournament with a high intensity defense and would break out a full-court press that could yield quick points.
The game started out physical from the start with Michael Manzardo on the receiving end of a hard foul on a layout. The found sent him to the floor, hitting his head on the surface in the process. The blow left Michael bloody and temporarily took him out of the game. In the same quarter, Jake Branham tweaked his knee and would not be able to return. The team managed to rally behind 5 first quarter points from Zach Howell. The team seemed to settle-in in the second quarter with balanced scoring across the board. Guard Ben Galligos played well and the team took an 8-point lead into the half.
The Irish would pick up where they left off in the 3rd quarter led by Charlie O'Reilly. Charlie scored 11 points in the 3rd and was a perfect 3 of 3 from behind the arc. Catholic would stretch their lead to as many as 15 and would end the 3rd up 14 (55-41). Ozark would come come out with a renewed sense of urgency in the 4th. The Tigers cut into the Irish lead and brought it within 5 with 3 minutes remaing. The Irish quickly answered with two consecutive layups from Charlie O'Reilly and Zach Howell. The Irish entered the double-bonus and kept the Tigers at bay.