By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Catholic’s memorable 2018-19 run ended without a state championship, but the memories and friendships forged will last much longer than a season-ending loss.
The Irish lost 69-59 to Vashon in Friday afternoon’s Class 3 Show-Me Showdown title game at JQH Arena.
Catholic was unable to overcome 20 turnovers and an athletic Vashon squad that shot over 50 percent (24-for-47) from the field.
“For our program and team to finish in the state championship game, it’s just remarkable,” said Catholic coach Dustin Larsen. “I can’t say enough about what this group has done to set a standard for our program.”
The Irish, who were making their first appearance in a state title game since 1984, got a game-high 25 points from senior guard Jake Branham.
Mizzou signee Mario McKinney led Vashon (26-5 overall) with 23 points. Cam’Ron Fletcher added 19 points and Phillip Russell scored 17.
“We knew this would be a war. Springfield Catholic has a really, really good team,” said Vashon coach Tony Irons. “Both of our schedules were extremely difficult. I think that’s what really prepared both of us to get to this point.”
The victory gives Vashon its 11th state championship overall and third in four seasons.
Catholic shot 50 percent from the field (17-for-34) but struggled against Vashon’s tight, man-to-man defense.
Vashon scored 29 points off 20 Catholic turnovers. The Wolverines outscored Catholic 10-3 over the final two minutes of the third quarter to take a 50-38 lead.
Catholic got no closer than seven in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we put up a tremendous fight from the tip,” Larsen said. “Overall, just a few possessions here and there – offensive rebounds and a few turnovers – created a little separation.”
Vashon reserve Recko Bailey finished with seven steals.
“He’s part of why that second half got rolling,” Irons said. “His energy and effort really helped us.”
Catholic trailed by only six at halftime and briefly led in the second quarter after a pair of Branham free throws.
“I think we gave everything we had, regardless of what the outcome was,” said Irish senior guard Charlie O’Reilly. “I don’t think (Vashon) expected us to hang with them that close early on. We went and gave everything we got. We’re proud of how we played.”
Catholic says goodbye to a six-player senior class: Branham, O’Reilly, Michael Manzardo, Wallace Squibb, Tyson Riley and Hunter Brown. The group formed friendships through sports.
“We’ve known each other since we were eight years old, but we’ve played against each other since we were five,” Brown said. “It’s crazy to think about. We’re about to graduate and move on to the next chapter.”
Over the last four seasons, the Irish have totaled 82 wins.
“It’s been the best four years of my life,” Manzardo said. “We’ve had a great time and I’ve loved representing Catholic.”
Added Riley: “I think we’ve left a good foundation here.”
Vashon 69, Springfield Catholic 59
Catholic 10 16 12 21 — 59
Vashon 14 18 18 19 — 69
Catholic (29-4 overall) – Jake Branham 25, Charlie O’Reilly 11, Zach Howell 10, Michael Manzardo 6, Tyson Riley 3, Wallace Squibb 2, Will Morrison 2
Vashon (26-5 overall) – Mario McKinney 23, Cam’Ron Fletcher 19, Mario McKinney 17, Cyrus Alexander 4, Donyae McCaskill 4, Recko Bailey 2