Irish boys to state; Spartans 2 wins from repeat

KNOXVILLE — The defending Division II-A state champs, Webb School of Knoxville, will be joined at Lipscomb University in Nashville for this weekend’s state “final four” by Mike Hutchens’ Knoxville Catholic Fighting Irish at the Division II-AA level.

Ricky Norris’ homestanding Spartans (27-6) beat Webb Bell Buckle 70-61 Saturday Feb. 29.

Meanwhile, Handje Tamba scored just four points for the Knoxville Catholic High School boys basketball team Saturday night.

However, his offense couldn’t have come at a better time for the Irish.

Tamba, Catholic’s sophomore forward, was neutralized and saddled with foul trouble. But his back-to-back dunks early in the fourth quarter brought down the house and set the tone for a 66-58 Irish victory over Ensworth in the State VIII round of the Division II-AA playoffs at KCHS.

“What we got from (Tamba) was huge and it was a real game-changer,” said Hutchens, Catholic head coach, after the sophomore’s second slam gave KCHS a 54-44 lead with 4:41 left.

Next stop for the Irish (23-4) is Friday’s state semifinals at Lipscomb’s Allen Arena versus Christian Brothers at 5:45 p.m. (EST).

Catholic’s other big man, senior Akeem Odusipe, had 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocks despite foul problems.

Sophomore point guard B.J. Edwards carried the Irish to victory with a game-high 28 points to go with eight rebounds.

“This feels great, and it’s just a blessing to be going to the state,” said Edwards, a Mr. Basketball finalist. “We all remember how we felt after Oak Ridge (season-ending loss) last year and we didn’t want to feel like that again.

The see-saw battle with the Tigers (21-8) continued throughout the first half, but Sam Sompayrac gave Catholic a 33-29 halftime advantage when he buried a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

Sompayrac also pulled down some key rebounds, took a pivotal charge in the third quarter and made four clutch free throws with the game’s outcome hanging in the balance.

“Sam is playing really well for us right now. He could start on any other team in Knoxville,” Hutchens said.

Freshman Blue Cain scored eight points for the Irish, while Presley Patterson had five.