The Irish came into the tournament as the 11th seed, but they're leaving with first place after easily handling Mount Spokane 70-39.
TACOMA — O’Dea had the nerves and jitters fitting of an 11th-seeded team.
But once the ball tipped for its Class 3A boys basketball state-title game?
“They didn’t play like an 11 seed at all,” said Mount Spokane senior JT Smith. On paper, his second-seeded Wildcats were favored in the Saturday matchup at the Tacoma Dome. O’Dea quickly proved why seeding doesn’t equate talent, beating the Wildcats 70-39 to take home the championship trophy.
The title is the Fighting Irish’s first since 2007 (and sixth overall) and helps the Metro League retain its eight-year hold on the Class 3A boys crown. In fact, it’s the competitiveness of the Metro that made O’Dea (20-8) a deceptive 11th seed in the tournament this week.
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Losses to conference foes such as West Seattle, Rainier Beach, Eastside Catholic and Garfield — some without O’Dea’s top players because of injuries — dropped the Irish’s RPI, which is used to seed the state tournament.
“That 11 seed, we all were pretty frustrated with that because we knew we were a lot better than what people thought us to be,” said sophomore Paolo Banchero, who missed five games because of a concussion. “We battled injuries all year. Coming in as an 11 seed gave us a chip on our shoulder to prove everybody wrong and we did that. This is crazy.”
Banchero said starting the second half against Mount Spokane on an 8-0 run tamed the jitters of playing in the championship game. He ignited the push with an assist, a two-handed dunk and a layin to help build a 33-18 lead with 5:32 left in the third quarter.
Banchero finished the game with 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five blocks. Teammate Noah Williams added 19 points.
“They came out and had great pressure and pushed the ball and beat us in transition,” said Smith, who finished with 12 points and five turnovers. “We came out and played as hard as we could.”
Mount Spokane (24-2) made its third tournament appearance, and its second-place finish is the first time the Wildcats won a trophy in the event. Tyson Degenhart, a 6-7 post, led his team with 14 points and eight rebounds.
The teams played each other last year in the state opener. O’Dea won 68-48.
“That’s an incredible team,” said O’Dea assistant coach Ryland Brown, who was a member of the program’s 1997 championship team. “We played them last year and knew they were coming back with a bunch of guys, so we know they’re tough and I was nervous the entire game. We defended well and really decided to fight and play for each other. It took us to another level.”
And that was all the way to the top of the 3A classification. O’Dea began its celebrations with 10 seconds left, bouncing around the court in jubilation once the final horn sounded.
Each player snipped a piece of the hoop’s nylon net as a keepsake, the bulk going to Williams, who with guard John Misel are the only seniors on the roster. Williams wore it like a necklace, the net healing all the struggles of the season.
“The hardest part?” said Williams, who suffered an ankle injury this season. “It’s a question I can’t even answer because we won a championship.”