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No Pressure

No. 1 Catholic stays cool to turn back Alcoa upset bid

Alcoa freshman Dante Harris drives the lane against Catholic on Tuesday. Photos by Keith Driver

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Don’t press Catholic. Don’t count on the Irish being anything but money at the line when it really matters.

Those two points were hammered home as the state’s No. 1-ranked Class AA team held off a game challenge from the Tornadoes, 69-66, on Tuesday at Alcoa.

Jonathan Webb gets set to pull from 3.

Jonathan Webb gets set to pull.

A Garrett Rogers 3-pointer for the Tornadoes as the horn sounded obscures a cool-headed and impressive finish for Catholic the last six minutes. The Irish (17-1, 6-0 District 4AA) were a perfect 8-for-8 from the line over that stretch, heralded point guard Luke Smith and Jack Sompayrac both going 4-for-4.

“It’s hard to beat a team,” Alcoa coach Joel Kirk said, “and that’s a tough team. They hit their free throws in the clutch.”

Just as telling was what the Irish did to force the Tornadoes (12-7, 3-2) to put them on the line in the first place.

Alcoa went with full-court pressure after made baskets and free throws throughout, and the Irish, quite simply, cut that press to pieces.

“Give Alcoa credit; they’re tough,” Catholic coach Mike Hutchens said, “(but) it’s hard to press us. We work on it every day for 20 minutes. That’s the only way you can get ready for the pressure of Alcoa. We put two on the point guard and get after it.”

Going straight to the basket after breaking the pressure, Catholic shot layup after layup each time Alcoa surged. Smith, 16 points, including a trio of treys, even banged home a pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers out of the Tornado press.

“We weren’t getting back on defense,” Alcoa freshman Dante Harris said. “We were trying to steal the ball at halfcourt and not getting back.”

The Tornado coaching staff wasn’t so much looking for steals out of the press as it was the occasional errant pass, Kirk said, only the Irish never got careless.

Tykee Ogle sails in for the block.

Tykee Ogle sails in for the block.

“(The press) is our mojo,” Kirk said. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to stick with it. We’re not that great in halfcourt man.”

Irish forward Jack Jancek put home a flurry of short-range buckets en route to finishing with a game-high 23 points out of the back of the Tornado press. Tony Scott inflicted similar damage with 14. Sompayrac was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line for the game in finishing with 12.

Catholic needed all of it the way the Tornadoes were shooting the 3.

Jonathan Webb hit the target five times from deep to finish with a team-best 17 for Alcoa. Larry Hodge tacked on a pair of bombs, freshman Nick Roberts and Rogers one each.

Harris had 16 for the Tornadoes on slashing drives and pull-up jumpers at the foul line, with Tykee Ogle adding 15 points.

An up-and-down tempo saw little separating the two district rivals after a quarter, Catholic ending the frame with a 15-12 lead. A Webb 3-pointer late pulled Alcoa even at 30-all at the half, with little changing after three quarters, the Irish lead at 47-43.

“I’m seeing improvement, and that’s what you look for,” Kirk said. “I told the guys, ‘You’re going to get another shot at them,’ and people say it’s hard to beat somebody three times.

“We’ve got to bounce back. We’ve got CAK in here on Thursday.”

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