Trey Dunn had 11 points for the Irish, who lost to a Midwest Athletic Conference team for the second year in a row. Last year the Irish fell to eventual D-IV state champion Marion Local.
“We just struggled to hit shots and had a couple key turnovers,” said Irish coach Cody Sarensen. “It stinks losing, but at the same time, I’m extremely proud of we’ve been able to do the last couple of years.”
Seniors Ethan Thieman (14 points), Caden Niekamp (13) and Zach Niekamp (11) all scored in double figures for St. Henry (23-3), which advanced to play Jackson Center in a D-IV regional final game at 7 p.m. Friday at Trent Arena.
St. Henry grabbed a 21-14 lead on a bucket by Zach Niekamp midway through the second quarter. Catholic Central cut the lead to two at the half at 22-20 thanks to a 3-pointer by Peyton Harris and an old-fashion 3-point play by Mykah Eichie.
The Irish struggled from the field, hitting just 30.4 percent of their shots (14-for-45). Central also shot 38.9 percent (7-for-18) from the free throw line.
The Redskins shot 54 percent from the field (18-for-33) and 50 percent from the 3-point line (6-for-12).
“There were a couple times we got beat on the drives, which forced rotations to give them open looks,” Sarensen said. “At this point in the tournament, it’s hard. You’ve got to keep your man in front and rebound. We just didn’t hit shots.”
Catholic Central’s Sabien Doolittle hit back-to-back buckets to tie the game at 28 with about four minutes remaining in the third quarter. St. Henry switched to a zone defense during that stretch, but quickly switched back to man, said St. Henry coach Eric Rosenbeck.
“Doolittle just took us to school,” he said. “We went back to man and finally got some stops and it allowed us to get some run-outs and get some transition. … The stops in the last four minutes of the third quarter were the key to the game, in my opinion.”
The Redskins would go on a 26-8 run the rest of the way to advance to the regional final for the first time since 2006. Central fought hard to get back into the game, but never cut the lead to single digits.
The Irish senior class of Doolittle, Dunn, Eichie, Harris, Jayden Borden, Casey Kampman and Chandler Impson finished their careers with 60 wins in the last three years.
“I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” Sarensen said. “I’m just so proud of every single one of them.”
The seniors will leave a lasting legacy at Central, he said.
“Those seniors have done so much work since they were kids to make their senior year special, which they did,” Sarensen said. “Hopefully (the younger guys) will see that and take note of that as they continue to get older.”