When the St. Ignatius Wildcats and Sacred Heart Cathedral Fightin’ Irish renew the oldest high school rivalry west of the Rocky Mountains on Tuesday night at Haas Pavilion, it’ll be yet another meeting that has ties through friends and families.
Groups like the San Francisco Fire Department and the San Francisco Police Department are filled with alums of the two schools, and the City’s Irish and Italian communities are deeply ingrained in both schools. On the court, it’ll be an even closer feeling, as the two star post players in the girls game, set to tip off at 5 p.m., are longtime friends and AAU teammates.
St. Ignatius’s Madelene Ennis and Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Talo Li-Uperesa each stand at 5-foot-11 and control the boards for their respective teams, and as the two duke it out in what should be yet another tightly-contested matchup, it’ll be one of the last installments in a series of great high school battles.
Last year’s game was a 50-47 Wildcats victory, with Ennis tallying eight points and 12 rebounds before leaving late in the third quarter with an ankle injury. Li-Uperesa had nine points and 14 rebounds as the Irish came back from down 10 points before a thrilling finish. It would be fair to expect both to play a major role, especially in a tight game. Ennis had 22 points and 16 rebounds in a December 27 win over Mills, while Li-Uperesa scored 22 in a win over Chandler-Arizona in the Scottsdale Tournament of Champions.
Considering how dominant the pair are on the glass, it’s hard to imagine just how difficult it is picking up any rebounds against their Golden City AAU team, which traveled over the summer to tournaments in Indianapolis and Atlanta.
St. Ignatius (11-3, 1-0) comes in having opened WCAL play with a win over St. Francis, while Sacred Heart Cathedral dispatched Presentation on Friday night. Both lost on Saturday to elite East Bay opponents, with the Wildcats falling to Berkeley, and Sacred Heart Cathedral (6-5, 1-0) coming up just short against a Salesian team that also beat St. Ignatius.
What does that mean for Tuesday? Probably nothing. The Wildcats won the first meeting last year, but the Irish won the rematch in convincing fashion, 67-42, and rolled all the way to a Northern California Division I title.
The Bruce-Mahoney is a game that always seems to operate in its own realm, with the challenge of playing in a college arena. The more intimate confines of USF’s War Memorial Gymnasium are being replaced by Cal’s Haas Pavilion this year, as renovations took away too many seats for USF to be able to host the game, meaning an adjustment to a background that’s wildly different from any high school gym. That could give the Irish a leg up, as their playoff run last year took them to Santa Clara’s Leavey Center and the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Still, it would be hard to doubt St. Ignatius when it comes to outside shooting. While Ennis dominates on the inside, Rachel Harvey and Angie McAdams can light it up from 3-point range. Ennis’ younger sister, Mali, already stands at 5-foot-10 and gets a few minutes off the bench, and point guards Diary Khin and Tatiana Newsome help set the pace. For the Irish, it’s junior forward Da’Miyah Lewis and sophomore guards Milan Tuttle and Dylan Benitez rounding things out.
Boys game: The first week of West Catholic Athletic League play helped set the stage for the 7 p.m. nightcap of Tuesday’s Bruce-Mahoney doubleheader. After graduating three starters and losing two more to transfer, Sacred Heart Cathedral (8-4, 1-1 in WCAL) has been a pleasant surprise this year, with junior guard Cedric Reed Jr. and 6-foot-8 junior center Oscar Cheng at the forefront of a hard-nosed team.
Perhaps the best story on Sean MacKay’s roster is Osin McCormack. McCormack spent his freshman year playing soccer, was cut from the JV team as a sophomore and chose not to play as a junior, serving as one of the school’s mascots. He scored 15 in Wednesday’s loss to Mitty and 10 in Saturday’s win over Bellarmine.
St. Ignatius (5-7, 1-1) finally pieced things together in Saturday’s 62-51 win over Mitty. While Wrenn Robinson and Stanford commit Neal Begovich have starred for the Wildcats, finding a supporting cast has been an obstacle, but smooth play from Kourosh Kahn-Adle and sophomore center Ethan Jew made a positive impact on Saturday.
A Sacred Heart Cathedral win would keep the trophy on Ellis Street, while a victory for the Wildcats would leave the series to be decided by the baseball game for a second straight year. Details for that game have yet to be announced.