SAN MATEO — With 20 seconds left in Wednesday’s Jungle Game between Serra and St. Ignatius, senior Serra guard Parker McDonald hit a dagger 3-pointer.
Like his buzzer-beater two years ago, McDonald’s shot to seal the game led to the fans rushing the court, but unlike that 2017 game, which was a display of joy in the aftermath of a miraculous finish, there was some dirty laundry being aired after the final horn. Members of both student sections had to be separated outside of the gym after the floor had been cleared out.
After trailing by as much as 21 points in the second quarter, and 20 at halftime, the Padres had completed an improbable comeback, beating St. Ignatius 48-44, and dealt a serious blow to the Wildcats’ playoff hopes.
“Desperation equals intensity,” Serra head coach Chuck Rapp said. “We were desperate dogs, no doubt. That’s what we hang our hat on, defend or die.”
Maybe the rim that the Padres shot on in the first half — and SI shot on in the second — had something to do with it. Only 24 of the game’s 92 points were scored on the end in front of the Wildcat bench, and the teams combined to make just five of 20 free throws on that basket. At the other end, free throw shooters were 16-for-23. It certainly wasn’t an issue Saturday, as Serra shot 9-of-12 from 3-point range on that end in a blowout win over St. Francis.
“It was like there was a lid on that basket,” Rapp said. “We said at halftime, ‘Hey, now we’ve got the basket without the lid.’”
Whatever put the lid on that rim didn’t account for how the Padres ratcheted it up defensively in the second half, though. In a tremendous display of the sort of defense that Rapp loves to see, Serra (15-5, 7-3 WCAL) put on tremendous pressure, constantly trapping the Wildcats and forcing turnovers.
“The defensive intensity got us a couple baskets and got us going,” said Rapp. “Momentum’s a powerful thing in this game, and we just rode it.”
After two McDonald free throws to open the second half, St. Ignatius (8-12, 4-6) turned it over on back-to-back possessions, resulting in a Cade Rees lay-in and a McDonald and-1.
“We knew Serra would come at us in the second half,” Wildcats head coach Rob Marcaletti said. “It was about how we’d take that punch and respond to it.”
For the most part, the Wildcats didn’t respond very well. That seven-point sequence was the start of a 24-7 quarter, and the foul to give McDonald his and-1 was Neal Begovich’s third. The Stanford-bound Begovich would get called for a charge with 10.7 seconds left in the third quarter and foul out with 6:35 left in the game, when St. Ignatius was clinging to a four-point lead.
“At that point, we had to have Neal out there,” Marcaletti said. “I knew it was a risk to have him playing with four fouls, but he’s one of our best players. I thought the third and fourth were ticky-tack calls.”
Begovich, who scored eight of his 12 points in the first quarter, was accountable for his mistakes, saying, “I’m confident in myself with playing with fouls, but obviously, I had some dumb mental mistakes. I shouldn’t have reached in there.”
That fifth foul was drawn by Dominic Bartlewski, who scored just four points but emphasized the sort of hustle that Rapp always tries to bring out in his players. He got the final basket of the third quarter to cut it to 38-35 as he put back a missed McDonald free throw, and after Begovich fouled out, he sank one of two to cut the lead to three once again.
“You’ve just got to keep the energy up and keep playing off it,” Bartlewski said. “We’ve got to keep playing hard no matter how much we’re down by. The crowd will take us home. They’re our sixth man.”
The early spurt to start the third quarter got the sellout crowd going after the first half had quieted the home fans, and with each successive steal, it only got louder. Damon Lewis, who didn’t even see the court in the first half, had two of the biggest defensive plays of the night, with a steal and the charge that gave Begovich his fourth foul.
Sam Nangle did put St. Ignatius up 41-36 with 5:11 left, but a Rees 3-pointer and Ryan Wilson’s lone basket of the night tied the game. After the Wildcats missed four consecutive free throws with a chance to take the lead — part of their 2-for-8 showing at the line in the fourth quarter — Rees hit a 16-foot jumper to give the Padres the lead for the first time with 2:46 left.
Kourosh Kahn-Adle would drive and score the last of his 10 points to briefly re-tie the game, but the hosts went back in front on a Cooper Fitz free throw with 2:03 left. McDonald split a pair at the line with 1:38 to go, part of his uncharacteristic 6-for-15 performance on free throws, but then he hit the dagger three to give Serra a five-point lead.
“The whole thing was just tightening up on defense and being patient on offense,” McDonald said. “Our shots just weren’t falling in the first half; we were getting good looks. We just had to trust our defense, defense led to offense and we started playing better.”
After the final horn, multiple Serra fans and players were going after the St. Ignatius fans, with a few crotch-grabbing gestures involved.
“The crowd was saying a lot of mean stuff to our players, so I felt like they deserved that,” Fitz said.
Security staff and administrators from both schools had to step in, including St. Ignatius principal Patrick Ruff. Though fans were directed to separate exits, they ultimately reconvened in the hallways outside the gym to continue the feud.
McDonald scored 18 of his game-high 24 in the second half for the Padres, while Wrenn Robinson scored all of his 12 in the first half for the Wildcats. Begovich and Rees each pulled down 10 rebounds.
Still needing three more wins in their final four games to reach the postseason, St. Ignatius travels to first-place Riordan on Saturday.
“This one hurts,” Marcaletti said matter-of-factly.
After a third consecutive road game on Saturday at Riordan, the Wildcats will host Valley Christian before finishing the regular season with a trip to St. Francis and a home game against Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“I think we play a lot better with our backs against the wall,” Begovich said. “We came out in the first half with that fire, and we need to go back to practice and fight like every game’s our last.”
Riordan 72, Sacred Heart Cathedral 69: A late 8-0 run gave the Crusaders the lead for good, though a technical foul and a foul on a 3-pointer gave Sacred Heart Cathedral (9-11, 2-8) late free throws to cut the lead to three and get one last chance.
Bryce Monroe’s left-handed layup proved to be the go-ahead basket for Riordan (15-5, 8-2), starting the decisive run. Monroe shot just 4-of-14 from the field, but still scored 10 and dished out nine assists at his former home gym in Riordan’s first win on Ellis Street since 2010.
De’Sean Johnson scored 23 for the Crusaders on 10-of-11 shooting and added 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive end to complete his double-double. Je’Lani Clark scored 15, shooting 7-for-8 and finishing one rebound shy of a double-double, and Justice Turner added 10. The Irish got a game-high 26 from Cedric Reed Jr., including five late free throws after Riordan had gone up 72-64. He also had six assists, while Oisin McCormack finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Kori McCoy scored 12 for SHC, Elijah Flowers added 11 and Oscar Cheng had six points and 10 rebounds.
The Crusaders remain tied for first place with Mitty (14-6, 8-2), 75-45 winners at St. Francis (11-9, 3-7). Bellarmine (16-4, 7-3) kept pace and remained tied with Serra for second place, winning 74-52 at Valley Christian (10-10, 1-9).