Darrion Trammell drives during the Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic in December. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Saint Ignatius-Serra rivalry game primed for impact on WCAL race

In the West Catholic Athletic League — a premier prep sports conference that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose — a couple of unlucky bounces and bad breaks can quickly derail a season. On the flip side, a few gritty wins can make a promising year turn magical.

Currently, Saint Ignatius and Serra are grappling with that reality, and while the teams are ostensibly heading in opposite directions, coaches for both squads aren’t putting too much stake into the early results of conference play. They know that a season could be swung by one — such as their teams’ matchup coming on Saturday, which will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Saint Ignatius’ home floor.

“We have a really young team, but it’s been amazing how they’ve reacted to our wins,” said Saint Ignatius coach Rob Marcaletti, whose team pulled out 70-66 comeback victory against Archbishop Mitty in San Jose on Wednesday night. “We haven’t had any of these big celebrations in the locker room, or a bunch of yelling and screaming. They’re just so focused on the big prize right now. They know we can’t get complacent.”

Conversely, Serra, the defending Division II state champ, is coming off a brutal 37-34 loss against Bellarmine, in which Bells senior guard Angelo Athens banked in a three at the buzzer. Sean Dugoni, filling in for legendary Serra coach Chuck Rapp — who is out for the season following back surgery — said his youthful squad remains upbeat, despite a couple of close losses to open up league play.

“These guys have never lost their enthusiasm, and I’m confident they’ll bounce back,” said Dugoni of the Padres, whose sole returning player from last year’s 26-win squad is 7-footer Jack Wilson. “We anticipated having a few growing pains early on, since we’re so inexperienced. But we know we’re going to get better in the second half of the season as everyone gets a little more playing time under their belt.”

The Padres could jumpstart their turnaround with a win against their historic rival, Saint Ignatius. The Wildcats are tied atop the WCAL with a perfect 5-0 record, while the Padres lurk a few games back at 2-3. To win on Saturday, Dugoni said his team will have to control the pace, slowing it down to a tempo that benefits the bigger Padres.

“We’ll have to be methodical with our offense, take at least 15 to 20 seconds off the shot clock for each possession,” said Dugoni. “We might be able to run with these guys later in the season, but we’re not ready right now.”

Marcaletti will rely on his trio of outstanding juniors, all of whom logged significant playing time last year as sophomores. Guards Darrion Trammell, Brandon Beckman and Mathew Redmond have been outstanding this year for the Wildcats, leading a fast-paced offensive attack that has averaged over 71 points per game on the season (a scoring bonanza in a league known for conservative, glacial game plans.)

“These guys have matured so much faster than we anticipated,” said Marcaletti. “That said, I knew we were going to be good. A lot of people might have pegged us to break out next year, but I just really, really liked our squad heading into the season.”

It’s been a storybook run so far for Marcaletti, but in the unforgiving WCAL, those dreams can crash down quickly. Saturday’s matchup will go a long way toward determining the future fortunes of Serra and Saint Ignatius.

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