Charlotte Catholic will get a chance to pull off a rare double next week in Chapel Hill.
Four months after the Cougars’ football team polished off an unbeaten season with a state championship, Catholic’s basketball team will have a shot at its own 4A title.
Catholic, No. 5 in the Observer’s Sweet 16, upset No. 2 North Mecklenburg 46-41 at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum and advanced to the school’s first N.C. 4A state basketball championship appearance.
Catholic (31-1) will face Cary (32-1) in next weekend’s 4A final in Chapel Hill.
“What can you say about this group of guys?” Catholic coach Mike King said after the emotional win. “They’ve fought since we lost to North Meck last year (in the playoffs).
“They have been really focused on what we’re trying to do. ...What more can you say? It’s a total team effort.”
King had a successful game plan for the Vikings, who averaged 81 points this season, topping 100 points three times. North Meck likes advancing the ball quickly by passing up the sidelines and running for easy baskets. Every time Catholic took a shot, King screamed “Get back! Get back!”
North Meck (27-3) didn’t get all the easy layups and dunks it usually does, struggled running its offense and scored a season low in points.
Catholic played a version of the “Pack Line” man-to-man defense that coach Tony Bennett employs at Virginia. It calls for one defender to guard the ball handler while the other four stay below the 3-point line, or even closer to the basket.
Catholic dared North Mecklenburg to beat them from outside. And North Meck couldn’t do it. The Vikings made 12 of 40 shots from the field, and only 4-of-16 3-point attempts. Senior forward Jaylen McManus had 17 points, but no other North Meck player reached double figures. Davion Mintz, who has signed with Creighton and is an N.C. player of the year candidate, had a season-low eight points.
“I feel like I didn’t get to key spots on the floor I’m familiar with,” Mintz said. “They played defense well, but we missed open shots.”
North Meck missed its first 10 shots and trailed 8-1 but managed to fight back and appeared ready to grab control after a McManus layup gave the Vikings a 37-33 lead with 3 minutes, 40 seconds to play.
But for the rest of the game, North Meck slipped back into its shooting funk, making 1-of-4 field goal attempts – a McManus 3-pointer at the buzzer – and committed five turnovers.
Catholic’s Jack Larkin, who had a game-high 19 points, sandwiched a 3-pointer and a layup around a twisting shot from teammate Josh Brodowicz to give his team a 40-37 lead with 85 seconds left to seal the victory.
“All throughout the playoffs and through the season, we’ve been down at the half and down in the second half multiple times,” Brodowicz said. “And maybe that’s why we have had such a good season, because we’re a second-half team.
“We called timeout (down 37-33) and we got our guys together and we said, ‘We’ve been in this position many times, and we know we can get this thing done.”
Charlotte Catholic 11 8 10 17 -- 46
North Mecklenburg 9 14 7 11 -- 41
CHARLOTTE CATHOLIC 46 -- Brodowicz 5, Jack Larkin 19, Abate 5, Zuhosky 3, Smith 4, Gagnon 4, McKinstry 6
NORTH MECKLENBURG 41 -- Mintz 8, Worthy 1, Jaylen McManus 17, Joyner 4, Walker 1, Coles 9, Hairston 1