3-2-1 — Bloomington Central Catholic wins state championship

By: By Tom Dermody

BLOOMINGTON — Central Catholic High School is built on a foundation of belief, in God and in one another.

But among the many adjectives used to describe its boys’ basketball team’s charge to the Illinois High School Association’s Class 2A crown — epic, historic, thrilling — perhaps the most heard was “unbelievable.”

“This is an unbelievable weekend for us,” said Joy Allen, principal, at a school rally on Sunday, March 16 — only 14 hours after the Saints had come from behind to defeat Nashville 76-62 in triple overtime in the title game at Carver Arena in Peoria.

“It’s unbelievable to have a three-overtime game in a state final,” head coach Jason Welch later told The Catholic Post. “To be a part of that, that’s special in itself, but to somehow win it, that’s unbelievable.” Speaking of how the Saints scored 13 of the last 15 points in regulation to force overtime, Welch recalled one of the most famous calls of legendary St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball announcer Jack Buck: “I don’t believe what I just saw.”

Allen said that in the hours and days after the championship a similar message was voiced to her in person and in phone calls and emails: “That was the game of all games.”

As remarkable as the title game was — just the second triple overtime game in state championship history — the path the Saints took to reach it was just as amazing. In succession, Central Catholic had defeated the state’s three top-ranked teams: No. 1 Rockridge in the sectionals, No. 3 Sterling Newman in the supersectionals, and No. 2 Providence-St. Mel in the semifinals.

“This is the best way to go out as a senior,” said all-state guard Nick Norton, who scored 25 points in the title game. “You can’t have anything more exciting than a three-overtime game to win the state championship.”

It is the first boys’ basketball state title in school history. The title also marked the second state basketball championship for a Catholic school from the Diocese of Peoria this season. The High School of Saint Thomas More had won the Class 2A girls title two weeks earlier.

Welch called the Saints “a wonderful group of young men” and “a special group both on the floor and off the floor.”

“Those guys just worked so hard and stuck together in good times and bad,” he said. Asked to describe what made them a championship team, Welch said they were hard-working, never-quitting, passionate and “like a family.”

Like any family, Welch admitted, there were days during the long season when not everyone got along. “But they cared about each other, they loved each other, and they pushed each other,” he said.

The Saints were also battle-tested, thanks to a difficult schedule that included playing schools with larger enrollments. The team’s six losses, all to 3A and 4A schools, kept them out of the state rankings during the year.

“It was motivational,” said Welch. “We felt like as a team we were kind of overlooked all year. It kept us focused.”

Welch said every member of the team did something to make the Saints state champions. He pointed to the leadership of Norton, the toughness of Elliot Hoerdemann, the shot-making of Jake Reinhart, tenacity of John Hester, the consistency of Braxton Coffman, the confidence of Austin Holman, and the carefree spirit of super-sub Parker Goodlick.

As the trophy was presented to the school at the March 16 rally, Welch, Allen, and the players thanked the school community and parents for their support.

“Our fan base was just incredible cheering on our Saints,” said Allen, who is retiring this summer after 23 years as principal. (See related story, this section.)

“I’m especially happy for this team,” she added. “I’ve seen a lot of basketball teams in my years here. This group really bonded, with many of the seniors having been friends since grade school.”‘

Noting the team slogan worn on t-shirts, “We — Not Me,” Allen said “they were really a ‘we’ team.

“They never quit,” said Welch. “I’m really proud of them.”

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