By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The last time Springfield Catholic won a Blue and Gold Tournament championship, their official name was St. Agnes.
In other words, it’s been a while. Fifty-nine years, in fact.
That changed Friday night, as the Class 3 Fightin’ Irish used a fourth-quarter rally to defeat Class 5 Republic 46-42 in a Gold Division title game tilt.
Behind the low-post presence of Ian Cochran and some timely shooting from Jake Branham, Catholic now has its first Blue and Gold championship since 1958.
“It’s a special feeling for all of us to do it,” Branham said. “Coach has been telling us all week that we had an opportunity to do something special. We came together as a group. It’s awesome. It’s an awesome feeling.”
The Irish overcame an eight-point deficit by outscoring Republic 18-6 in the decisive fourth quarter.
Catholic went ahead 38-37 with under three minutes remaining on a Branham 3-pointer from the left corner. It marked Catholic’s first lead since the opening quarter.
“We ran a flare screen, got it to me in the right spot and I just went up (and shot it). It felt great,” Branham said.
Branham, who fell down as the shot was going in, added: “I did think I got fouled on it. But it’s OK. It went in.”
Cochran, who added eight rebounds (unofficially), gave Catholic a 40-37 lead on a thunderous two-handed dunk that ignited the Irish student section. Catholic (10-3 overall) never trailed again.
Branham sealed the victory by making two free throws with about 42 seconds remaining, giving Catholic a 42-37 lead.
“We believe we can come back in tight games,” Branham said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game and we’d have to battle. Coach told us late, ‘Get it through your heads right now. Put the look in your eyes.’ We went out and got it.”
Republic committed 13 turnovers.
“They’re extremely physical, so we had to take it one possession at a time and dig a little deeper,” Irish coach Dustin Larsen said of the fourth-quarter comeback. “We had to get the tempo up just a little bit, make them make some decisions while going a little bit quicker.”
“Offensively, we had to make some adjustments and get the ball inside a little bit more. Our movement was not good early. We had to get some different actions.”
Republic made four of its first five 3-point attempts. The Tigers led 24-18 at halftime and 36-28 entering the fourth quarter.
Broc Smith led Republic with 13 points.
“As 2-seed, the stakes are set high,” Larsen said. “That means you’re starting to get that respect, but you want to go out and finish it. You get a 2-seed, you want to finish at least there or above. You want to prove that you deserve it.”
Catholic 46, Republic 42
Republic 13 11 12 6 — 42
Catholic 10 8 10 18 — 46
Republic – Broc Smith 13, Trent Rackley 8, Tucker Thomas 7, Race Looney 5, Hunter Creek 4, Drew McMillin 3, Jaden Duvall 2
Catholic – Ian Cochran 13, Jake Branham 11, Charlie O’Reilly 11, Mike Manzardo 5, Tyson Riley 4, Brett Maes 2