SAN JOSE — After losing two starters to transfer and graduating the rest of last year’s starting lineup, it was easy to predict that the Sacred Heart Cathedral boys’ basketball team was destined for the bottom of the West Catholic Athletic League this season. With how they’ve looked so far this year, those predictions look overblown.
Still, a hard-nosed performance wasn’t quite enough in Wednesday night’s league opener, as Archbishop Mitty scored the game’s final eight points to claim a 69-65 home win despite the Fightin’ Irish leading for almost the entire second half.
Marcus Greene scored a game-high 23 points, including a the last of his seven 3-pointers with 25 seconds left to lead the hosts to victory.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (7-4, 0-1 WCAL) led by as many as 11 in the first half, and held a one-point advantage through three quarters. The Irish opened up a 58-52 lead on a third-chance put-back by Elijah Flowers and a screen-and-roll from Osin McCormack with just over four minutes left, but the Monarchs evened it up with back-to-back 3-pointers by Devan Sapp.
From there, Sacred Heart Cathedral would go back in front with five straight points from Cedric Reed Jr., including an emphatic and-one with 1:55 left, but a Greene three from the corner on the next possession would cut the lead back to two. Head coach Sean MacKay called timeout and drew up a play that got McCormack to find Oscar Cheng under the hoop for a dunk, but Joseph Vaughn would immediately drive to the hoop to trim the lead to two.
An empty possession for the Irish and a foul sent Vaughn to the line with a chance to tie, and he split the pair of free throws before the Monarchs turned the ball over. Kori McCoy was called for an offensive foul with 37.4 seconds left, giving the ball back to Mitty (7-4, 1-0). Though the initial plan was for the Monarchs to get a look underneath, Greene had tons of space in front of him and drained the go-ahead 25-foot three. Cheng was fouled under the basket with a second to go but missed the first free throw, and was called for a lane violation when he tried to intentionally miss the second. Vaughn would seal the game with two free throws.
Despite letting a tight game slip away, it would be hard for the Irish to be too disappointed, considering their lack of expectations entering the year. They went down to the wire on the road with a team that’s been at or near the top of the WCAL for the last 15 years, and they did it with a cast of players who were hardly known until this year. Reed led Sacred Heart Cathedral with 17 points and seven assists while McCormack, who played soccer his freshman year, was cut from the JV team as a sophomore and didn’t play as a junior, scored 15 with nine rebounds.
“He was the mascot last year,” said MacKay. “He’s a fixture in the program and a true Irishman. We didn’t have one on the team last year, so we had to go find us an Irishman.”
McCormack scored the first four points of a back-and-forth third quarter in which the Irish never trailed, but never led by more than five. Mitty scored the final four points of the quarter on a Michael Mitchell tip-in and a soft finish by Sapp off the glass to cut the lead to 49-48 entering the fourth. McCoy and Sapp traded threes to open the fourth quarter as McCoy scored 14 in his WCAL debut after transferring from El Cerrito. He’s the second player in two years to come from the East Bay, as Cheng, who had 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, transferred to Sacred Heart Cathedral last year from Albany-St. Mary’s.
Four inches taller than anyone else on the floor at 6-foot-8, Cheng was able to impact the game from start to finish on Wednesday, with his long arms causing trouble in the middle of Mitty’s zone and his height giving him the ability to finish in the paint. Four of his points came early in the second quarter as the Irish opened up the period strong, stretching the lead to 30-19 on a McCoy three before Mitty closed the half on a 14-1 surge, with two threes by Sapp and a trio of Greene 3-pointers giving the Monarchs the lead heading into the locker room. Between the end of the first quarter and the start of the second, SHC went on an 18-3 run, even with Elijah Flowers in foul trouble and spending most of the span on the bench.
The Monarchs, who got 13 points from Vaughn and 11 from Mitchell, will travel to St. Ignatius on Saturday while the Irish play host to Bellarmine.
Bellarmine 63, St. Ignatius 45: A 24-7 third quarter tipped the scales in San Jose on Wednesday as St. Ignatius (4-7, 0-1) went into halftime with a four-point lead but couldn’t piece things together in the second half with Stanford commit Neal Begovich in foul trouble. Kiran Kruse led Bellarmine (10-1, 1-0) with 26 points, while the Wildcats got 12 from Wrenn Robinson.