By JESSE SMITHEY
An improbable and unexpected postseason run by the Catholic High School girls’ basketball team met a heartbreaking end Saturday night at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.
Hutchison School of Memphis downed the Lady Irish, 41-34, in the Division II-AA state championship game.
But that loss only marginally diminished what Catholic achieved in Year One under head coach Travis Mains. Through a brutally tough schedule, Covid-19 obstacles, injuries to key players and adjusting to a new coach, the Lady Irish constructed a remarkable second half to their season.
And despite being a sub-.500 team, they made it all the way to the season finale — in the program’s first-ever trip to a state tournament.
Catholic finished the season 15-17. So its drought of losing seasons technically continues, having not had a winning record in more than two decades. However, the Lady Irish graduate just one player off this roster and have just two Class of 2022 players. And while senior guard Jeila Greenlee was the team’s second leading scorer, plenty of talent returns for Coach Mains in 2021-22.
As for Hutchison, it won its first state championship in the program’s third appearance at state.
Saturday’s season finale went much like Catholic’s season: the Lady Irish struggling early but rallying like mad down the stretch.
Hutchison’s size in the front court featured 6-foot-3 Camryn Harrison and 6-foot Kaia Barnett. And they affected the game from the get-go, as seven first-quarter offensive rebounds and an 11-3 rebounding advantage helped Hutchison race to a 17-5 lead after one quarter. What’s more, Hutchison sophomore guard Berklee Scifres went 3-for-4 in the first quarter from 3.
The Sting also shadowed Catholic freshman Sydney Mains, the Lady Irish’s leading scorer, defensively and used a double team when necessary to keep her scoreless until the last three minutes of the first half.
Dotson’s jumper for Catholic at the 6:13 mark of the second quarter ended a 7:44 scoreless drought for the Lady Irish.
But Maddie Prather popped in a 3 with roughly 5 minutes left in the half and a jumper in the lane 30 seconds later to open a 24-7 advantage.
The Lady Irish trailed 26-11 at the half, trailed in rebounds (21-9) and shot 27.8 percent from the floor.
Mains made one of five shots before the break. She finally got open enough to hit a 3 midway through the third quarter, cutting Hutchison’s lead to 30-16. Her scoop-shot layup with less than a minute to play in the third made it a 32-20 game.
Hutchison began playing not to lose in the fourth quarter, trying to run clock yet struggling to beat Catholic’s defensive pressure. They finished with 18 turnovers, and that allowed the Lady Irish to get back in it.
Sharon Wilson’s corner 3 for Catholic got it to a 37-28 margin at the 4:59 mark of the fourth. Jaz Williams’ Euro-step score with 1:32 left cut it to 39-31.
Greenlee’s deep NBA-length 3 with 32.8 left got Catholic to within 39-34 of Hutchison, the closest Catholic had been to the lead since the midpoint of the first quarter.
Greenlee finished with 11, but Catholic couldn’t finish off the last-minute comeback.
Mains had nine points. Hutchison won the rebound battle, 40-24.