Irish fighting Catholics appear to be among the elite


When Zach Howell and the rest of the Catholic Fightin ‘Irish saw they were a No.4 seed heading into the Blue and Gold tournament, they shook their heads in disbelief.

“Right from the start, we really felt like we were disrespected,” Howell said.

No one can blame the Irish for feeling this. All they’ve done is win and convincingly.

Catholic is in the Blue Division quarter-finals following Monday’s 73-46 victory over Clever in the first round. The Irish are 10-0 this season with sweeps in the Clever Tournament and wins on some of Arkansas’ best programs.

With eight seniors, including one of the region’s elite players, the Irish feel capable of scoring big points in Blue and Gold and in important matches to come.

Springfield Catholic's Zach Howell walks to the basket around Clever's Aaron Rice in the first round of the Blue and Gold tournament at the Hammons Student Center on Monday, December 27, 2021.

“It’s a little motivated our kids coming here and that’s a good thing,” said first year head coach Jack Simpson. “Even in training it has kept us engaged and there is a little more motivation for this tournament for sure.”

The Irish start with their star senior, Howell, who received interest for Power 5. He has scored 20 or more points in every game except two for the Irish this season, including a 30-point performance on Monday.

Howell showed a bit of everything that makes him so special throughout the game. The 6-foot-5 goaltender kicked the ball well from the outside and played for a basket. He’s a tough defensive player and wasn’t afraid to dive for the free ball, even when the Irish had a comfortable lead.

The Springfield Catholic Fightin Irish take on the Clever Blue Jays in the first round of the Blue and Gold tournament at the Hammons Student Center on Monday, December 27, 2021.

The Division I recruiting lives up to the hype, but its head coach believes there should be even more hype.

“I think Zach is actually an underrated player in this area,” said Simpson. “There are a lot of really good players out there and Zach is by his side. He works and he’s a super competitor and I think that’s what makes Zach so elite.”

Catholic is also the elite behind the many great athletes on what is a deep list. The roster is very long with seven players 6-3 or more. It also features Missouri state football engagement Liam O’Reilly, who is the top athlete on the field 99.9% of the time.

A transition attack earns the Irish a lot of points when they don’t even need to be trained so much. The eight seniors have been playing together for a long time and they are natural scorers.

The Springfield Catholic Fightin Irish take on the Clever Blue Jays in the first round of the Blue and Gold tournament at the Hammons Student Center on Monday, December 27, 2021.

When the Irish decide it’s time to play defensively, that’s when they are in the top flight.

“When they defend they’re pretty good,” Simpson said. “It’s just so that they focus on the defensive end.”

Catholic enters the remainder of the tournament with what appears, on paper, to be an easier path after Marshfield upends the No.5 skyline to advance to the quarter-finals.

The Fightin ‘Irish certainly look like one of the best teams in the region. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they do a deep run in this tournament behind the great experience they have.

“We think we’re one of the best teams in the region, if not the best,” Howell said. “We’re really excited to show this as the tournament progresses.”

Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist for the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, email [email protected] or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He is also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.



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