Back to Back district titles for Irish ballers

Back to Back district titles for Irish ballers

CLEVER, MO -- The Irish have had their sights set on this post-season for quite sometime. After winning their first district crown last season, the Irish looked to repeat against some usual district foes. In the 17/18 tournament, we saw the same 1-2-3 seeds in Catholic, Strafford, and Fair Grove in that same order. However, the district picture seemed to change this year when All-State Strafford gaurd Riley Oberbeck went down with a torn ACL in a conference game against rival Fair Grove. Many in the district thought this would lead to a semi-final win for Fair Grove but the injury-shortened Strafford team pulled out an emotional victory over Fair Grove after trailing nearly the entire game. This would set up a rematch of last year's championship game. 

The Indians certainly carried momentum from their semi-final victory into Saturday's championship. Led by Dillon Hester, the Indians jumped out to a quick 9-0 1st quarter lead and the Irish would not answer until the 2:37 mark. That Hunter Brown 3-pointer would end up being the only Irish field goal, ending the 1st down 15-3. Catholic would awake from their slumber in the 2nd. Senior Michael Manzardo knocked down a 3 and Sophomore Will Squibb forced a turnover that turned into a layup to bring life to the Catholic fans. The Irish took the lead at the 2:45 mark with a Jake Branham 3-pointed and would build the lead to as much as 7. But the Indiand kept the game in reach when Dillon Hester knocked down a 25-footer to bring the raucous Strafford crowd to their feet while cutting the Irish lead to 1 entering halftime. 

Strafford would come out of the half with life and took the lead early in the 3rd and would extend it to 5 before a well-time time out. The Irish seemed to settle down and Michael Manzardo added some instant offense out of the break, scoring 5 points in 36 seconds. Junior Will Morrison would add a spark in the end of the 3rd led off with a block, and offensive rebound, and 5 points in the last two minutes. 

The 4th quarter would see the Irish take control of the contest. Charlie O'Reilly kicked off the 4th quarter scoring with a left-hand floater and the Indians could not cut away at the lead. The Irish entered the bonus at 3:48 and while starting a cold 0-3 at the charity stripe, would finish the remainder of the game 8-10. Jake Branham, Michael Manzardo and Charlie O'Reilly would finish the quarter with a combined 17 points and the Irish would secure their second championship in as many years. 

"It's tremendous how much our team has progressed over the last few years," said Catholic coach Dustin Larsen. "I couldn't be more proud of them."

This District title was the 8th for the Irish and marks the third time that the team has won back-to-back championships, joined by the '58/'59 and '78/'79 programs.

The Irish will advance in the State bracket to face Lamar in the State sectional contest. Lamar advances out of District 12 after eliminating Seneca in that championship 51-42. The sectional game will take place next Wednesday at Willard High School at 6:00pm.