By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. – Accustomed to beating opponents with its sharpshooting ability, the Catholic Fightin’ Irish had to carve out a different identity to win on Thursday night.
Eighth-seed Bolivar held top-seed Catholic to 38 percent shooting (17-of-45) and 31 percent from 3 (5-of-16), but the Irish grinded out a 48-41 Gold Division quarterfinal win in the Blue & Gold Tournament from JQH Arena.
“It was good for us,” Catholic coach Dustin Larson said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Bolivar and the job they do. You know you’re always going to be tested when you play good teams and programs. We knew it was going to be a dog fight tonight. Hats off to them. I thought our guys were tested. … I was really proud of the way our guys pulled together.”
Jaden Spindler and Ian Jones each had 12 points to lead Bolivar. Jake Branham paced Catholic with 11 points.
Catholic built a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter, but had its hands full from there on. Bolivar’s defense contained the outside shooting attack of the Irish and contested everything in the paint. By halftime, the score was equal at 24-24.
“We guarded and rebounded really well,” Bolivar coach Robby Hoegh said. “We tried to protect the paint. They have players that can finish and they made some tough shots in the paint. When we’re contesting shots really well and rebounding the first misses, our defense is pretty good.”
Bolivar built a 32-28 lead with 4:25 to play in the third quarter but saw its offense disappear. Catholic held the Liberators without a field goal over the next eight minutes, building a five-point lead in the process. Bolivar closed within 44-41 with 1:21 to play, but Catholic made four free throws in the final minute to close out the win.
“You need to be tested like that,” Larson said. “There’s lots of good teams out there and we’ve been fortunate to play really well and have some comfort space in a lot of games we’ve played so far. Those close ones they test you and help you grow. You need that to be seasoned because it’s a long season and our team is still working on getting better.”
Bolivar outrebounded Catholic 31-29, led by seven rebounds apiece from Jones and Levi Manning. Catholic got nine boards from Charlie O’Reilly.
Catholic will play in the Gold Division semifinals at JQH Arena on Friday at 7 p.m. Bolivar moves to the fifth place bracket for a 7 p.m. game on Friday in Hammons Student Center.
Catholic 48, Bolivar 41
Catholic 14 10 12 12 48
Bolivar 10 14 8 9 41
Catholic: Branham 11, O’Reilly 8, Squibb 7, Rader 6, Galligos 6, Morrison 4, Howell 3, Manzardo 3
Bolivar: Spindler 12, Jones 12, Berry 8, Manning 7, Tucker 2