Since 1997 the closest the Catholic Central boys basketball team has come to experiencing the district tournament is hearing former players like Jason Ronai discussing their trips during visits to practice.
After Friday, this year’s Irish will have their own story to tell.
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Catholic Central will end a 21-year drought when the Irish play in the Division IV district championship at the University of Dayton Arena. Catholic Central (22-3) takes on Ripley-Union-Lewis-Huntington (17-8) at 5:30 p.m. in the first of three district finals at UD.
“We really harp on tradition and the program being a family,” Catholic Central coach Cody Sarensen said, “so we’ve had quiet a few alumni come in the last few years.”
This year’s group of five seniors stood in the hallway outside the locker rooms after a Tuesday morning practice at UD Arena. They discussed the topic of being next. Not just in the district final, but also returning to talk to future Irish teams.
“The tradition here is really special. We’ve been trying to get here and we finally made it,” senior Deece Catanzaro said. “I think about when I’m 30 years old I want coach to invite us back to talk about our season and make our season something special, too.”
It already is. Catholic Central, ranked No. 10 in the final Associated Press D-IV state poll, won the Ohio Heritage Conference for its first league title in 17 years. And the district appearance is the first for the Irish since Chris Wells, Matt Talbott, Pat Shutte, Robbie Moore and Kevin Brandewie, among others, led Central to a 50-38 win over Cincinnati Seven Hills.
“It didn’t really seem real until we got here (for practice Tuesday),” senior Dominic DeWitt said. “Once we got here it’s like we made it. Hopefully we keep it real and keep it going to continue our journey.”
Catholic Central reached the district final with an electrifying 42-40 overtime victory against Legacy Christian on Saturday night at Troy High School. With the Irish trailing 36-33, Woeber grabbed an offensive rebound with about five seconds left. Falling out of bounds, he managed to find junior Trey Dunn for a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to help extend Catholic Central’s season.
“I believe this is our year and we’re going to get it done,” senior Trey Brown said of cutting down the net on Friday. “This is a new atmosphere (playing at UD Arena on a bigger court) but we’re going to play our basketball.”
That’s worked well for the Irish so far. They won 11 straight games after a season-opening loss to Kenton Ridge. They lost to West Jefferson and Greeneview during a four-game stretch, and have since rattled off nine straight wins.
“It feels great to be able to relive a tradition that has been here for a long time,” senior Gunner Weaver said of returning the Irish to the district tournament. “This has been a great experience.”
Catholic Central lost in last season’s sectional final to Southeastern 49-42. The Irish lost their opening-round game in both 2016 and 2015.
Getting practice time at UD on Tuesday helped the Irish get a feel for the court and the environment – albeit without a crowd – and could help them to shake off some nerves when they emerge from the locker room Friday. Some, but not all.
“Absolutely. I’m always very nervous,” Woeber said, laughing. “But this is amazing.”
Just like the Irish ending that two-decade drought.