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SF Preps Basketball: With backs against the wall, SHC wins behind Li-Uperesa’s heroics

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Sacred Heart Cathedral forward Talo Li-Uperesa heads up the Haas Pavilion court in a Jan. 8, 2019 game against St. Ignatius. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

ST. IGNATIUS — Needing three wins in their final four games to reach the postseason, and with one of those games against nationally-ranked Mitty, the Sacred Heart Cathedral girls’ basketball team’s Tuesday-night’s trip to St. Ignatius was effectively a must-win.

In what was almost a carbon copy of the first meeting between the two teams, Talo Li-Uperesa played the role of hero, hitting two go-ahead baskets in the final 30 seconds to keep the Fightin’ Irish’s playoff hopes alive with a 55-53 win.

Just like that first meeting, which the Irish won in overtime on Jan. 8 at Haas Pavilion, SI star Maddie Ennis fouled out, and though her team would once again go on an inspired run with her off the floor, SHC would ultimately exploit Ennis’s absence to grab the win.

Having trailed for the entire game, St. Ignatius (14-7, 3-4 WCAL) would tie the game at 51 on a mid-range jumper by Angie McAdams and a 3-pointer by Jalene Gee. Li-Uperesa would drive the length of the court and score to put the Irish back on top with 34 seconds left, but freshman Jackie Acosta would sink two free throws with 13.6 remaining to knot things back up.

Li-Uperesa rose to the occasion once again, though, scoring with 4.4 seconds left on another drive to the hoop. Carmela Marquez, who scored 11 points, would intercept the long inbound pass at midcourt and dribble out a huge win for Sacred Heart Cathedral (8-11, 3-4).

“I just had to take leadership,” Li-Uperesa said. “With my teammates all looking to me, I have to lead them at the end of the game.”

Though the Irish still need two more wins, hosting St. Francis on Friday and traveling to Valley Christian next Friday to close out the regular season, sweeping the season series with SI is a great place to start, especially after last Friday’s surprising loss at Presentation. SHC had beaten the Panthers by 25 to open league play, but lost the rematch 44-40 in San Jose.

“We were talking on defense much more tonight and picked it up mentally,” Li-Uperesa said. “We had been out of it for a while, but today was definitely a good win for us.”

If SHC does reach the postseason, there’s a good chance a rematch with SI is in the cards.

“We’ll see them all,” said St. Ignatius head coach Mike Mulkerrins. “You’ll likely have five of the six WCAL teams in the Open Division. It’s just a matter of what seeding we’re going to get.”

Mulkerrins’ Wildcats could have easily ended their rivals’ playoff chances on Tuesday if not for a sluggish second quarter, and Ennis fouling out on a surprising call on a rebound.

Ennis, who has interest from Pacific, UC Davis and a variety of other nearby Division I schools, scored just four points in the first half but finished with 18, along with 11 rebounds. Her first foul didn’t come until early in the third quarter, when two Li-Uperesa free throws gave the Irish their largest lead of the night at 31-15, but SI used an 18-3 run cut the lead to one by the end of the third. Four straight points from Marquez and a layup by Da’Myiah Lewis (12 points) gave SHC a 46-36 lead with four minutes left, and Ennis would foul out with 1:49 left on an eerily similar play to the one that took her out of the first meeting with the Irish.

“Maddie gave maximum effort, and when you have a kid that plays that hard all the time, they’re going to get in foul trouble,” Mulkerrins said. “We did some great things to tie it up, but we didn’t have that person who could stop Talo at the end.”

Rachel Harvey scored 11 for SI, but Li-Uperesa’s 19 points and 13 rebounds proved to be the difference.

The St. Ignatius girls will travel to nationally-ranked Mitty on Friday at 7:30. The Monarchs are led by the top recruit in the entire country, Stanford commit Haley Jones, and head coach Sue Phillips coaches the U-17 national team.

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