Mount Si boys basketball suffers heartbreaking end to season

Wildcat senior Zander Nelson leaps into midair between two O’Dea defenders to attempt a lay-up basket. He sunk 21 on the night last Tuesday in the ‘Cats’ final game. - Photo by Calder Productions
Wildcat senior Zander Nelson leaps into midair between two O’Dea defenders to attempt a lay-up basket. He sunk 21 on the night last Tuesday in the ‘Cats’ final game.
— image credit: Photo by Calder Productions

Mount Si's boys basketball team had a dream, to be the first Wildcat team to make the state tournament since 2006. This group worked very hard throughout the year, but knew that getting there through the SeaKing Tournament would be a very tough challenge. After February 25th's loss against Franklin, that reality hit home for Mount Si, and last Tuesday night, March 1, it hit home once again, as O'Dea used hot shooting from outside to crush the hopes of the Wildcats and especially their stellar senior class.

Despite 21 points from one of those seniors, Zander Nelson, the Irish answered regularly with key three-point baskets and the Wildcats fell 72-65 in a competitive contest at Mount Si High School. O'Dea, coming in as the #5 seed from the Metro League, hit a total of 10 three-pointers, many of them with ease.

"I think they did an amazing job shooting the ball. When we would make a run, they answered back with a big shot,” said Mount Si assistant coach Steve Haislip.

The Wildcats opened the game with a 6-0 lead and it seemed as if Mount Si was on track to control the game from the outset. But the Irish went to work, and started their onslaught from behind the arc. The Irish took the lead near the end of the first quarter on one of those aforementioned threes and rolled into the second frame up 13-10.

The Wildcats responded behind Nelson and Dillon Shain buckets early in the second to take the lead 18-17, but then another three helped the Irish regain the advantage. O'Dea took a lead of as many as seven before Mount Si fought back to make it interesting going into halftime. A three from Justin Downer sparked that late rally, but the Irish went into the locker room up 33-29.

O'Dea maintained control in the third quarter despite the Wildcats' best efforts, and the Irish extended their lead to a dozen points, 48-36, before Nelson, Shain and Tanner Riley got together and led another spirited Mount Si rally which got the Mount Si fans going. Lucas Zupan hit a basket and was fouled with four seconds left in the quarter to briefly put the Wildcats up (he hit the free throw for being fouled), but another three, at the buzzer, by O'Dea's Dustin Watts put the Irish back in front, this time to stay. Watts finished with 12 to pace O'Dea, who beat Mount Si 65-64 earlier this season. Zupan finished with 14 while Riley aided things with 11 points for the Wildcats.

The Irish held their own in the fourth quarter, as their defense did not allow Mount Si to mount another strong rally, and the Irish pulled away with late free throws to seal it. The Wildcats' record ended at 16-8 on the season, their best season since that 2006 run which saw them get two dramatic wins to open the state tournament before falling in their final two to take sixth. Haislip, in his first season at Mount Si after stops assisting Newport and Liberty, says there’s one thing which separates this school from the others.

"I enjoy all places. I think all the high schools are unique, but the community support here at Mount Si is absolutely amazing,” he said.

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