Monroe Catholic Boys back on top of the 3A podium as State Champions

Published: Mar. 27, 2021 at 11:39 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The pendulum hasn’t swung in Monroe Catholic’s favor since they won the Aurora Conference Championship March 12. Leading up to the Class 3A High School State Basketball Championships, the Rams discovered they will be without two players due to COVID protocols, including First-Team All-State Member and sophomore standout Malachi Bradley. On Selection Sunday prior to the tournament, Monroe was tabbed as the No. 3 seed, despite going undefeated within their conference and in the Class, as teams were seeded based on the last five years of state tournament success. With the seeding the Rams were pitted against No. 6 seed Grace Christian in the opening round, an elite 3A program that fielded another strong, well-coached team as usual. In the semifinals, guard Ashton Huntington, who was the first player off the bench for Monroe throughout the weekend went down with a knee injury and did not return the rest of the tournament.

The pendulum swung back into Monroe’s favor Saturday in the 3A State Championship game, by the tune of a 67-52 victory over the Anchorage Christian School Lions.

“What these kids had to endure, not just in the last week, but in the last 13 months, nobody has had to do something like that,” said Head Coach Frank Ostanik after the championship moment. “Every time these guys got punched, they got back up and they just kept coming.”

And every time ACS threw a punch in the State Championship game, Monroe got back up and they just kept coming.

Lions sophomore JD McGee threw down a thunderous two-handed slam, followed by an ACS steal and a bucket and quickly, the Lions were leading 18-12 early.

The Rams responded twofold, with a Jase McCullough layup, back-to-back Quinn McHenry three-pointers, an Evan Puryear trey and Monroe took a stranglehold of the lead and hung on to it until the trophy was in their grasps.

Just days after receiving the highest honor in 3A Basketball - Player of the Year - Senior Quinn McHenry more than proved he was worthy of the award. The future Sonoma State Seawolf and all-tournament member poured in a game-high 30 points, doing damage from behind the arc with 5 three-pointers, and at the rim, with a game-sealing dunk to cap off his high school career.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said McHenry trying to describe his emotions. “This is what we have all been dreaming about.”

Turnovers and three-pointers were two of the defining statistics in this one, as Monroe doubled up ACS in treys (8/17 vs 4/11), while having half as many turnovers (20 vs 10). Puryear finished with 11 points, while McCullough added nine points, six assists and a pair of steals on his way to an all-tournament nod.

Tommy Bast, the all-tournament member who tallied 10 points and 5 assists in the title game, has been a part of the Catholic Schools of Fairbanks since kindergarten, and finally captured something he saw older classmates achieve in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

“It was unfinished business, I feel like we got robbed last year,” said Bast, referring to the cancellation of the 2020 State Tournament. “I have mixed emotions, I love my guys and I am going to miss them, but at the same time, we did what we came to do.”

Senior floor general Jase McCullough moved to Fairbanks from Arizona his junior season and did not get a chance to compete at state last year, just like the rest of the teams. McCullough nearly had this year’s opportunity taken away as well, as he missed the last month leading up to the state tournament battling a calf injury. Now, his name is forever engraved in Monroe’s history, joining his brother Jalon who won three state championships with the program from 2012-14.

“This is all I ever wanted,” said McCullough after the cut down the net. “Jalon has three, so I had to get one to keep the name alive.”

Though none of this year’s roster was a part of Monroe’s most recent state title, they carried their legacy with them in Saturday’s performance.

“It’s special man, Scooter Bynum gave us a big speech before and really motivated us,” said Bast. “The community is just awesome.”

Bynum was the Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year during the 2013-14 season, the last time Monroe was atop the Class 3A landscape.

“We wanted to have great gratitude in our heart, we wanted to play with grit and we wanted to play with grace,” said Ostanik, who captured his fourth state championship with Monroe. “I thought we were grateful, played with grit and played with grace the whole weekend and I think that served us well.”

Though the Rams are back atop the Class 3A landscape, this is likely the last time they will be able to do so, as the Alaska Schools Activities Association has approved to reclassify the Monroe boys and ACS boys and girls programs to 4A starting next season.

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