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O’Connell wins Beach Ball Classic

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If the 11th time is considered a charm, then that works just fine for the Bishop O’Connell Knights.

With a 3-0 record, O’Connell won the popular and 41-year Beach Ball Classic boys high-school basketball competition in Myrtle Beach for the first time in 11 attempts. The Knights (7-3) defeated 2011 champion Milton High from Georgia, 71-49, in the Dec. 30 title game of the traditional top division at city’s convention center.

O’Connell had lost in the final two other times over the years.

“This is one of the toughest and best basketball tournaments around, so to win it is tremendous and very satisfying,” O’Connell coach Joe Wootten said. “It’s hard to win this because the competition is so good.”

In the Knights’ first two classic games this year, they routed St. James from South Carolina, 81-23, in their opener, then topped Buchtel of Ohio, 68-64, in game two.

Against Milton, a team ranked second in the country in one preseason poll, in the final, O’Connell started strong, leading by 24 points at halftime and ahead big the rest of the way.

Senior forward David Onanina had a double-double to lead the Knights in the final with 10 points and 14 rebounds to go with a blocked shot.

Del Jones (six rebounds) and Christian May each scored 15 for O’Connell; Paul Lewis had 11 points and three steals; Machi Chester added eight points, five assists and five rebounds; Cavan Reilly also scored eight and Jadyn Harris four with five rebounds.

The Knights made eight three-pointers and outrebounded Milton, 44-27, with 19 offensive rebounds.

Against Buchtel, Reilly scored 21, May 12, Harris  and Chester 10 each, Onanina had six points and seven rebounds, with Lewis scoring five and having three assists. May had a double-double with 10 rebounds.

The Knights led 59-43 after three periods, then survived a Buchtel rally in the fourth.

In the win over St. James, Jack Williams made four three-pointers and led O’Connell in scoring with 16. Reilly (four threes) scored 14, Chester 13, Onanina had 10 points and nine boards, and May scored nine. Lewis had six points, five steals and four assists, and Shane Lincoln tossed out five assists.

O’Connell made 13 three-pointers.

May was chosen the Most Valuable Player of the classic, with  Reilly and Chester making the all-tournament team.

In the three classic games, May totalled 36 points, 20 rebounds, he had seven steals, four assists and four blocks, and made two three-pointers.

“We have played a tough schedule this season, and we are getting better,” Wootten said. “I thought we defended very well in the classic.”

In its previous holiday competition this season, O’Connell finished third in the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas with a 3-1 record.

NOTE: There are two Woottens who have now coached high-school basketball teams to Beach Ball Classic titles. Joe Wootten’s late father, Morgan, coached DeMatha to three such crowns during the many years he was leading the Stags. Joe Wootten was told DeMatha’s eventual participation in the tournament significantly boosted its credibility.

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