TACOMA – O’Dea plays in the ultracompetitive Metro League, where it finished third this season behind third-seeded Rainier Beach and top-seeded Eastside Catholic.
But the Irish knocked off Eastside Catholic 49-41 in their semifinal, while Mt. Spokane dispatched Rainier Beach 65-60 in the next game.
Maybe O’Dea, which went 18-8 in the regular season and entered the state tournament as No. 11 seed, took confidence in the fact it wouldn’t have to face a league member in the title game. Maybe it got healthy at the right time.
It was supposed to be a showdown between super sophomores: All-Greater Spokane League first-team selection Tyson Degenhart, at 6-foot-7, for Mt. Spokane and 6-9 Paolo Banchero for O’Dea.
It didn’t go that way, and Mt. Spokane had little answer for the Irish.
Banchero scored 20 points with seven rebounds and O’Dea beat Mt. Spokane 70-39 in the State 3A championship game at the Tacoma Dome on Saturday.
The Irish were the lowest seed to reach a 3A or 4A title game since seeding began in 2017 and the first to win a Wednesday loser-out game in the process.
Part of the reason for O’Dea’s low seed was injury, which kept Banchero – a top-five player in the country for his graduating class – out of action during league play.
“I was just playing my game,” Banchero said. “I know Tyson, he’s a great player. He challenged me all game. I challenged him. We went at it. I think it was just me playing my game and letting the game come to me.”
Degenhart led the Wildcats (25-2) with 14 points, eight in the first half, with eight rebounds. JT Smith added 12.
It was the Wildcats’ first trip to the championship game and the first time since the Greater Spokane League split into 4A/3A that a league team has played for a 3A boys title. It was also the first time since 1980-81 (Shadle Park) that the GSL 3A had boys and girls from same school playing for state title.
Mt. Spokane shot 26.1 percent, went 11 of 18 at the free-throw line and was held to single digits in each of the first three quarters.
The Wildcats’ Jerry Twenge, who averages 15.7 points, was held to three and went 0 for 7 from the field.
“Where we normally get a lot of energy when we’re scoring the ball –it just didn’t go our way,” Mt. Spokane coach David Wagenblast said of the uncharacteristic poor shooting.
“There was so many times where the ball just went in and out. We weren’t able to get into a rhythm and we pressed a little bit. And we made some passes we don’t normally make. That was the key.”
O’Dea disrupted the Mt. Spokane offense and kept the Wildcats from going on a run.
“For me, it was the layins that we were missing. Or free throws,” Wagenblast said. “That’s where sometimes as a shooter you just have to see the ball go in the hole first.
“And when you miss a layin, that 3-pointer doesn’t look as confident.”
Degenhart and Smith hit 3-pointers in the first quarter, and Mt. Spokane trailed 11-9 after one. Degenhart had to receive attention during the period for a bloody nose.
Degenhart and Banchero traded blocks of each other’s shots, and Paul Johnson’s long 3 put O’Dea up by five with 1:22 before halftime.
Noah Williams got free for a fastbreak layup, and O’Dea led 25-18 at half. The Wildcats were 5 of 20 from the field.
The Irish scored the first eight points of the third quarter, including a one-handed follow-up slam by Banchero, before Smith ended the run with a 3.
Degenhart scored a tough basket inside, and the Wildcats were down by nine midway through the quarter.
Banchero blocked Degenhart again and Jermaine Davis finished the fastbreak to move O’Dea up 35-24.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, it only went downhill from there.
Banchero muscled his way through the lane to score on a follow, and Williams’ fastbreak layup made it a 20-point game. The lead hit 30 on a 3-pointer by John Misel with 2:20 left.
“We lost a little confidence and then all of sudden it was, ‘Wow,’ ” Wagenblast said. “It was quick. They pounced on us.”
“We just knew if we continued to play defense that we played in the first half to the second half, and we executed our offense, we felt like we could stretch the lead,” Banchero said. “That’s what we tried to do.”
Wagenblast emptied his bench on a timeout to allow all his players to experience the state title game.
“We’ve got 11 guys in there that were able to create memories that will last a lifetime,” Wagenblast said.
“It’s a great group of guys and the best season in school history,” Degenhart added. “It’s hard to complain.”
Although it didn’t go their way, senior Tanner Brooks said the loss wouldn’t detract from Wildcats’ historic season.
“It was very special,” he said. “I’ll remember it forever.”