Catholic holds off Rolla rally to win Class 5 District 5 title

By Michael Cignoli (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

MARSHFIELD — Springfield Catholic’s road to a district title wound through several communities in southwest Missouri, but one of the biggest moments happened about 2,000 miles away.

When Rainer Beach announced it would not be making the trip from Seattle to compete in this year’s Tournament of Champions, the Fightin’ Irish were a last-minute addition to the field.

So when Rolla began chipping away at Catholic’s 10-point lead in the fourth quarter on Friday at Marshfield High School, coach Jack Simpson’s players leaned on the experience they collected over those three days in January — and the many other high-profile games on their schedule.

As a result, they’ve guaranteed themselves at least one more.

Zach Howell scored 22 points, Ty Lyon added 12 more and the Fightin’ Irish survived a late rally in a 48-39 victory over Rolla that secured the school’s first district championship since 2019.

Trailing by 10 points at the start of the fourth quarter, Rolla cut the deficit to 42-39 with 1:10 remaining. Undeterred, the Fightin’ Irish finished the game on a 6-0 run to wrap things up.

“We played a really hard schedule this year,” Simpson said. “We played Nixa twice. We played Paul VI. I think that prepared us for this moment. Rolla is a really good team. We didn’t just expect them to go away because they’re capable of making shots. You saw that in the fourth quarter. We kept our composure and we pulled it out.”

CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE GAME

By winning the Class 5 District 5 title, Catholic sets up a highly anticipated rematch with District 6 champion Bolivar at 2:45 p.m. next Saturday, March 12, at Southwest Baptist University.

Bolivar ended Catholic’s season last year with a double-overtime victory in a district title game.

The teams realigned this year and no longer share a district, but met in the regular season. Division I prospect Kyle Pock hit the go-ahead shot with seconds to spare, capping a 34-point performance for Bolivar. Howell, a Division I prospect in his own right, finished with 28.

“They went to the state championship last year for a reason,” Simpson said. “If we want to get there, we have to knock them off. We’ll be ready next Saturday.”

Catholic improved to 23-6, with half of those losses coming in the Tournament of Champions to Nixa, New Madrid County Central and eventual champion Paul VI – a game they lost by five.

“All three really great clubs,” Simpson said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump in those games, but after that tournament we started preparing for this moment. Now we’re moving onto the state quarterfinals. I’m just so proud of these guys. They played so hard.”

Simpson guided the Fightin’ Irish to a district championship in his first year at the helm.

“We’re so lucky to have coach,” Howell said. “I think we’re the luckiest team in maybe the country. He cares so much. He loves us. He pushes us to be our best. Couldn’t have asked for a better coach.”

Simpson put the attention back on his senior class.

“It’s those guys,” Simpson said. “It’s not me. Without the talent, you don’t play in games in like this. Without Zach Howell, (Liam) O’Reilly, Lyon and all my other seniors, we’re not here. Those kids are great kids. It carries over to the court. I’m so proud of them. They deserve it.”

Those seniors helped Catholic overcome an early deficit.

Rolla built an early lead and held it until Howell and O’Reilly hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the second quarter, part of a 16-5 run that ultimately put Catholic ahead for good.

“I think we missed three layups in the first quarter and probably had six or seven turnovers,” Howell said. “Not a great first quarter, but we came out in the second quarter playing well.”

Senior Major Riley scored seven of Catholic’s first 11 points.

Lyon had 10 of his 12 after halftime. The University of St. Mary commit and Howell, who holds multiple Division I offers, accounted for all but four of Catholic’s points in the second half.

“We got it together as a team and stayed focused as a team,” Lyon said. “We had a motto: Play defense. That’ll turn into offense and transition. Transition was our key. We got into that as well.”

Catholic now transitions its focus to the state quarterfinals, which features a pair of top-four teams. The Irish are ranked fourth, while Bolivar is sitting in third place with a 25-3 record.

It’s essentially a home game for the Liberators, as it will be played three miles from their school.

“We’re just going to have to come out and play,” Lyon said. “Pock had 34 on us last game. We’re going to have to come out and guard him mainly and hope for a better outcome.”

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