ST. IGNATIUS — Friday’s 55-51 loss to the Loyola Cubs hurt the St. Ignatius Wildcats far more in the long run than it did in the immediate moment.
There’s nothing wrong with losing a close game to a team ranked 32nd in the state by MaxPreps entering the weekend, but with the defeat, the Wildcats have guaranteed themselves a losing record in non-league play, meaning they’ll need to go at least .500 in the West Catholic Athletic League to secure a postseason berth.
None of SI’s six losses have been by more than 13 points, and all have been to excellent teams, but as an inexperienced group that has struggled with shooting and turnovers while head coach Rob Marcaletti tries to push the right buttons, it means that the ‘Cats will have to right the ship quickly in order to qualify for a trip to the playoffs.
In fact, their fate may become clear in just a couple of weeks. They open league play with two-time defending champion Bellarmine and then face Mitty before a grueling week with three rivalry games in five nights.
That hasn’t shaken Marcaletti’s confidence in his team.
“We’ll be all right,” he said after the loss. “Our guys are growing up and going through this whole experience with WCAL-type games. We just need to value possession a little more.”
A 10-minute drought without a basket from the field loomed large for St. Ignatius (3-6) on Friday. A Neal Begovich 3-pointer midway through the second quarter tied the game at 22, and SI took a three-point lead over the Cubs into halftime with five free throws, including four from Malcolm McCray-Hill.
Even though the Wildcats closed the first half on a 12-2 run, they would see Loyola (13-4) go on a 13-1 tear to start the second half, with a Wrenn Robinson 3-pointer finally snapping the drought and cutting the lead to 37-31. The Cubs took a 12-point lead with 3:03 left in the game after a James Keefe and-1, but SI made things interesting down the stretch, getting within four on a Robinson basket with 23 seconds left.
Loyola broke the press on the following inbound and a Keefe two-hand jam served as the exclamation point to avenge a loss in last year’s tournament championship.
The Wildcats might have even had a chance to win with some better shooting. Robinson led all scorers with 21 points, while Keefe, a Stanford commit, scored 17 for Loyola and pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds. Stanford head coach Jerod Haase and two of his assistants were in attendance to watch Keefe battle it out with Begovich, his future teammate. Begovich would block Keefe twice on the night but finished with just 10 points. Colby Brooks and Neil Owens each added 11 for the Cubs, while Kourosh Kahn-Adle finished with eight points and four assists for SI.
Branson 53, Sacred Heart Cathedral 35: A Sacred Heart Cathedral offense that had scored at least 53 points in every game and entered the night averaging 66.6 was held to just 35 points thanks to a mix of physical Branson defense and horrendous free throw shooting in the semifinals of the Damian Lillard Classic at Oakland High.
The Fightin’ Irish scored just five points in the first quarter and went 10-for-26 at the line on the night, with no individual player scoring more than nine or shooting over 50 percent on free throws. Viktor Rajkovic finished with a game-high 24 points and 15 rebounds for Branson (10-2), outscoring SHC in the first quarter with nine points and matching the Irish in the third with nine more.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (6-3) struggled to shoot from the outside until the final minutes, making just three 3-pointers on the night. Cedric Reed Jr. connected for the opening points of the third to cut Branson’s lead to 27-17, but the Irish wouldn’t strike again from deep until the final minutes. SHC will face Rodriguez in the tournament’s third-place game on Saturday night at 6:30.
Monte Vista 76, Mission 45: In the Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic, the Bears never really had a chance to avenge the lone loss from their state championship season as they entered Friday’s game without both leading scorer Ben Knight (facial injuries) and point guard Andre Villarino (food poisoning).
Monte Vista (8-3) closed the first quarter on an 11-2 run and outscored the Bears 27-9 in the second to take total control of the game. Jason Lai led the Mustangs with 16 points off the bench while starters Jakob Meciar and Anthony Santa Maria each added 13. Jaraughn Torno scored 19 for Mission (5-7), going 4-of-7 on 3-pointers, and David Sonnier finished with 10. Monte Vista played without 6-foot-7 center Kris Bortz (ankle) and guard Jack Stallard (illness), who scored 17 in Thursday’s win over Houston-Strake Jesuit.
Arroyo Grande 65, University 58: Despite leading by six in the third quarter, University (8-6) came up short on the third day of Marin Catholic’s Bambauer Classic as the Eagles shot 25-of-30 at the free throw line.
Lincoln to face Urban: Lincoln breezed to a 78-34 victory over Terra Linda at the Bambauer Classic and will face Urban in the final round of the tournament on Saturday. The Blues beat Huntington Park, 69-55.
Lick-Wilmerding 48, Justin-Siena 37: Another excellent defensive showing vaulted Lick-Wilmerding (13-1) into the finals of the Head-Royce Tournament, where the Tigers will take on the host Jayhawks at 6 p.m. on Saturday night.