BERKELEY — Different venue, same old classic Bruce-Mahoney Game.
The Sacred Heart Cathedral girls basketball team got two game-tying free throws from Talo Li-Uperesa with three seconds remaining in regulation to avoid a fourth-quarter collapse, and then opened overtime on a 7-0 run en route to a 61-54 win over the St. Ignatius Wildcats before a boisterous crowd, which remained so despite renovations to the traditional location — USF’s War Memorial Gymnasium — forcing the game to be played across the Bay in Berkeley at Haas Pavilion.
The Fightin’ Irish trailed by as much as four in the fourth quarter after leading since early in the second, but took advantage of missed St. Ignatius free throws to tie the game. They returned the favor by going 7-for-8 at the line in the extra period, defeating the Wildcats for the eighth time in 10 meetings while exacting a bit of revenge for last year’s Bruce-Mahoney loss.
Da’Myiah Lewis — who scored 15 points and pulled down 17 rebounds — went coast-to-coast for the first points of overtime and the lead quickly grew to seven after a Nya Epps three and a pair of Dylan Benitez free throws. Benitez was nails from the line in the bonus period, making five of her six to finish with 10 points while facilitating the offense in the absence of Milan Tuttle, sidelined by a broken ankle.
“We just needed to hustle in overtime and not let the crowd get to us,” said Lewis, who went 5-of-6 at the free throw line. Her development has been key for this year’s team, after she got minimal playing time last year after transferring in from KIPP.
Li-Uperesa was phenomenal for Sacred Heart Cathedral (7-5, 2-0 WCAL), scoring a game-high 17 points and pulling down 10 rebounds despite spraining her ankle in the third quarter. While much was anticipated of the matchup between Li-Uperesa and her good friend — and AAU teammate — Maddie Ennis, the two weren’t positioned against each other constantly, since Li-Uperesa has evolved from a post player into an all-around stud, while Ennis spent much of the night in foul trouble.
Ennis committed her third foul in the final seconds of the first half, and fouled out with 4:32 left in the fourth quarter. She still scored nine points and led St. Ignatius (11-4, 1-1) with 12 rebounds, but the Irish were able to capitalize on her absence, opening up a nine-point lead midway through the second quarter and leading for the entirety of the third. Rachel Harvey cut the lead to 40-39 early in the fourth, but she missed the free throw that would have tied the game, a bad omen for the Wildcats the rest of the way. Ennis would split a pair of free throws to tie it with 4:33 left, but would foul out when going for the rebound with Benitez.
Still, her absence wouldn’t deter St. Ignatius, which nearly pulled the win out in her absence. Diary Khin gave the Wildcats their first lead since the opening quarter less than a minute after Ennis’ exit, and the lead would grow to four on a basket by Sabrina Ma with just over three minutes left.
Ma got most of the playing time vacated by Ennis, and the sophomore was stellar with the opportunity. She led St. Ignatius with 12 points, and though the Wildcats shot 14-of-28 from the line as a whole, she made six of her eight attempts. Still, the team went just 1-for-5 on free throws in the final 90 seconds, leaving the door open for the Fightin’ Irish. A Carmela Marquez three made it a one-point game with two minutes left, and though the Irish would miss one game-tying attempt and turn it over twice more, they’d stay within a point until Ma made one of two from the line with 6.7 seconds left.
Li-Uperesa would take the rebound, drive up the court and drew a foul with three seconds remaining before she ever had a chance to get a potential game-tying or winning shot off.
“We knew they would foul instead of let her get to the basket,” said Sacred Heart Cathedral head coach LyRyan Russell.
Sore ankle and all, she made both free throws to force the extra period, swishing the first and getting the roll off the front of the rim for second.
“It’s do-or-die,” she said. “I’ll admit, I was nervous.”
Those nerves didn’t seem to slow the Irish at all after letting the lead slip away. Li-Uperesa’s newfound versatility propelled the Irish to take complete control in overtime, and they looked nothing like a team that was on the receiving end of multiple blowouts in non-league play.
“We’re young, but we work well together and have the IQ,” said Li-Uperesa. “We want to get back to state.”
Last year’s team entered the postseason with a losing record before going on a memorable run to a Northern California title, but with Tuesday’s strong finish, it looks like such struggles won’t be present throughout the year for SHC. Still, it’s not like the victory led to any dramatic celebration.
“It’s just another game for us,” said Russell. “We have St. Francis Friday, O’Dowd Saturday and Mitty next week.”