The Catholic Central boys basketball reached heights the program had not seen in 21 years. But overcoming Marion Local’s size advantage became too much for the Irish in the Division IV regional semifinals on Tuesday.
Catholic Central battled Marion into the third quarter before the Flyers pulled away for a 55-33 victory at Kettering Fairmont High School’s Trent Arena.
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The Irish (22-4) trailed 27-23 on junior Trey Dunn’s three-pointer with 5:25 left in the third. The Flyers (22-4) ripped off a 10-2 scoring run to end the third, then scored 12 of the first 15 points to open the fourth for a 22-5 run overall.
The regional appearance – and the D-IV district championship victory – was the first for Catholic Central since 1997. The Irish also won their first league title, capturing the Ohio Heritage Conference, for the first time in 17 seasons.
“I think our coach summed it up pretty well,” Catholic Central senior Jacob Woeber said. “He said one game doesn’t define a season. He gave us a list of our accomplishments and to see it written out, it makes it really special.”
On paper, the Irish also knew the challenge ahead. Woeber is the tallest Irish player at 6-foot-3. The Flyers have two regulars that stand 6-6 and a third at 6-4. That height wreaked havoc on Catholic Central’s game plan of attacking the paint, which the Irish did so well in its four previous tournament wins.
“Coach talked about how we have to attack the paint and we kept on trying,” junior Peyton Harris said. “It seemed like it didn’t work at all. We kept on trying but our game plan didn’t work out today. We didn’t play right together in the first half.”
The Irish took its only lead on the first basket of the game. Dunn, dribbling near the perimeter, faked a drive inside and the Flyers’ defender fell backward on the move. Dunn stepped back and hit a three-pointer for the 3-0 lead with 6:10 left in the first quarter.
Marion answered with consecutive three-pointers from Justin Albers and Nathan Bruns, then tacked on the next nine points with an inside-outside game for a 15-3 lead. Senior Dominic DeWitt ended the run with a basket with 36 seconds left in the quarter.
Catholic Central, which trailed 23-16 at the half, pulled within 27-23 on another Dunn three-pointer. Marion’s Matt Rethman answered with a three-pointer and soon after the Flyers took off on their decisive scoring run.
“They looked like a bunch of football players,” DeWitt said of the Flyers, who last fall won their 10th state football championship overall and sixth in the last seven years. “They had some big boys out there. I thought we held our own decently, but you can’t do much with such good athletes on the floor like they have. … We had a great season. I hope they carry it on next year.”
This is also Marion’s fourth regional appearance in the past five seasons, including the last two in Division III. The Flyers lost in the regional finals in 2014, 2015 and 2017.
“They have some guys that can really put the ball in the hole,” Marion coach Kurt Goettenmoeller said. “Give them credit. They clawed back to within four points. … (But) if we can shoot the ball on the perimeter we’re a difficult matchup.”
Marion knocked down five three-pointers, but enjoyed its biggest advantage on the boards. The Flyers out-rebounded an Irish team that had controlled the boards this postseason 28-18 overall.
“This is the biggest team we’ve faced,” Harris said. “The OHC doesn’t really big, tall guys like them. But we want to grind hard this summer, get together and be at this point again … I told the guys in the locker room to keep our heads up. I told them the summer time is the time to grind. Let’s contact each other and stay together.”
Dunn led Catholic Central with 14 points. Junior Sabien Doolittle added seven, Woeber six, senior Deece Catanzaro three, DeWitt two and senior Trey Brown one.
“I’m so proud of our boys and what they’ve been able to do and the community support they’ve received,” Catholic Central coach Cody Sarensen said. “At times we had to challenge our players. They have to feel uncomfortable now and then, and this year we did that. That allowed us to get where we are. At the same time – when we see (regional semifinalists) Fort Loramie and Marion Local out there – we know what level we have to be at to move forward. We didn’t quite make it to that level this year.”
But the Irish did help raise the bar for next season. Catholic Central finished ranked No. 10 in the final Associated Press state poll and returns a solid core including juniors Mykah Eichie, Dunn, Doolittle and Harris.
“It’s always about creating those life-long memories,” Sarensen said. “Those seniors have had three coaches the last four years. That can be challenging for a program and they stuck through it. They had their hard times, but they trusted and believed what we were about.”