Saint Ignatius and Mission High School playing tonight represents the first time the top public and private schools in SF played in over two decades. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner; Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Saint Ignatius and Mission High School playing tonight represents the first time the top public and private schools in SF played in over two decades. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner; Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

SF primed for biggest night of high school basketball in decades

It’s rare in San Francisco to have a clash between the top public and private schools. In fact, St. Ignatius head coach Rob Marcaletti played in the most recent of those games, back in 1996.

Tonight, San Francisco finally will be home to another of those matchups as St. Ignatius hosts Mission in a Northern California semifinal at 7:30.

Yes, there are great rivalries within The City. The Bruce-Mahoney game between SI and Sacred Heart Cathedral sells out the War Memorial Gym on the University of San Francisco campus each year, and both of those schools also enjoy a healthy rivalry with Riordan. The AAA Championship for the public school title draws a lively crowd at Kezar, as does Lowell and Washington’s Battle of the Birds.

But this kind of public-private clash hasn’t happened in over 20 years.

In that 1996 game, the Wildcats topped Balboa at Kezar Pavilion in a NorCal Semifinal. Current St. Ignatius assistant Ali Thomas started in that game for the Wildcats. Cassidy Raher drained nine 3-pointers as the Wildcats knocked off top-seeded Balboa in overtime, 80-74.

Fast forward to 2017, top-seeded St. Ignatius (23-6) will look for some more of that 3-point magic against fourth-seeded Mission in the Division III Northern California Semifinals. In Saturday’s second round win over Placer, the Wildcats drained 12 treys, including eight by Brandon Beckman.

Mission (32-1), led by Niamey Harris, aims to throw the Wildcats off their game with tenacious full-court pressure and breakneck speed.

Though Mission has the superior record, St. Ignatius earned the top seed by facing a tougher schedule. The Wildcats boast a win over Mitty, an Open Division team. Still, Mission has its share of impressive wins, including one against Logan in December.

That win was at St. Ignatius during the Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic, which was essentially held as a three-day showcase. The tournament eschewed its typical bracket format to accommodate teams traveling from out of state. In doing so, fans were deprived of a chance to see Mission and SI battle. Luckily, less than three months later, that opportunity has been realized.

The Wildcats have dominated head-to-head meetings as of late. The teams have met in each of the past three seasons, with St. Ignatius winning all three, including a 73-44 blowout in December 2015. In that game, an inexperienced SI team walloped a Mission roster that strongly resembles this year’s.

“We never got started offensively, and they took advantage of it,” said Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya when asked about the most recent meeting with SI. “We dug ourselves into a huge hole that we couldn’t get out of. We need to take care of the ball and just be ourselves.”

In terms of experience, the Bears have the upper hand. Harris, Jayden Foston and Tyrese Johnson are all seniors. Johnson led all scorers on Saturday with 14 points in a win over Foothill-Palo Cedro.

St. Ignatius starts a lineup of juniors and sophomores, led by Beckman, Matt Redmond and point guard Darrion Trammell. The three combined for 54 of the Wildcats’ 65 points against Placer.

Lick-Wilmerding remains alive

Though tonight will be considered a clash for superiority in The City, there’s one more San Francisco team still playing.

Lick-Wilmerding (26-8) will host St. Patrick-St. Vincent in the Division IV Tournament. Lick traveled to Vallejo on March 1 in the NCS Division IV Semifinals and overcame a 20-point deficit to top the Bruins in overtime.

The Tigers played that first meeting without point guard Chip Thompson and top defender Royce Fong. Thompson is now fully healthy and Fong returned on Saturday.

Though Lick-Wilmerding is one of Northern California’s hottest teams, the collapse in Vallejo has galvanized SPSV. The Bruins have won their first two State Tournament games by an average of 54 points.

Whether one chooses to attend the game at St. Ignatius or Lick-Wilmerding, or just follow updates from home, Tuesday night is poised to be San Francisco’s best night of high school basketball in decades.Lick-Wilmerding High Schoollick-wilmerding tigersmission bearsMission High SchoolPrep Sportsst. ignatius college prepst. ignatius wildcatsst. patrick-st. vincent bruinsst. patrick-st. vincent high school

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