The St. Ignatius boys' basketball team and the Wildcats student section celebrate a win over rival Serra on Jan. 10, 2019. (Ethan Kassel / Special to S.F. Examiner)

St. Ignatius creates tie atop WCAL standings with convincing win over Serra

MCCULLOUGH GYM — Cade Rees scored 17 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter as Serra managed to cut a 22-point deficit all the way down to nine, but make no mistake: Thursday night’s Beach Game belonged to host St. Ignatius.

The Wildcats allowed just 21 points in the first three quarters en route to a 61-49 win, handing the Padres their first league loss create a four-way tie atop the West Catholic Athletic League standings.

“We’ve been working so hard on the defensive end in practice and guys have bought in,” said St. Ignatius head coach Rob Marcaletti. “They’re playing with and for each other, and you see it.”

St. Ignatius (7-7, 3-1 in WCAL) has now won three straight, including a decisive Bruce-Mahoney win on Tuesday at Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion. At every step of this three-game win streak, there’s been different role player stepping up to the occasion, and on Thursday, it was  junior forward Malcolm McCray-Hill, whose 10 points were his most in a game on the year.

As the Wildcats went on an 11-0 run in the second quarter, McCray-Hill got the ball rolling with a pair of free throws and then hit a 3-pointer from the wing up open up an 18-10 lead. Serra’s scoring drought would last nearly six minutes before a Patrick Simon 3-pointer finally stopped the bleeding. His shot made up half the Padres’ second-quarter scoring, and they would once again be held to six points in the third as St. Ignatius would break the game open, even with star forward Neal Begovich in foul trouble.

Begovich picked up his third foul with 6:27 left in the third quarter, and though his absence for any prolonged stretch has typically meant peril for St. Ignatius, it was a strong team effort that led to a 12-2 run that would cover the rest of the quarter. Sophomore center Ethan Jew handled the duties in the post, scoring three of his six points during the span. The only player to outscore him in the quarter was Wrenn Robinson, who had five.

While Robinson and Begovich normally carry the Wildcats offense, as they did on Tuesday when they combined for 46 of the team’s 65 points against Sacred Heart Cathedral, Thursday saw a far more balanced attack against a Serra team known for defensive intensity. Robinson did finish with 20, but only nine of those points came from the floor. With McCray-Hill, Zach Taylor-Smith and others keeping the offense in motion, there was far more balance than this unit had shown at all over the first half of the season.

“I needed to get mad at myself because I had fallen off recently,” McCray-Hill said after his strong performance.

A Robinson 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter grew the lead to 43-21, and the exclamation point came with 5:22 left on a Begovich two-handed slam right in front of a packed student section.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Begovich was deemed to have hung on to the rim and was given a technical foul on the play, his fifth foul of the night, and unlike in the third quarter, his absence gave Serra (11-3, 3-1) new life.

The Padres attempted 19 free throws in the fourth quarter, and though they missed five of them, it allowed the visitors to extend the game and more than double their offensive output from the first three quarters. Rees was automatic during that stretch, going 8-of-8 at the line and scoring off a steal to cut it to 54-45 with 1:32 left. A five-second violation gave the Padres a chance to draw even closer, but after a miss, St. Ignatius would make seven of eight free throws to close out the game.

“It wasn’t our night in terms of shooting, but if we had kept it to a 10-14 point deficit, we might have been able to pull this thing out,” said Serra head coach Chuck Rapp. “Balls roll funny for everybody, and tonight they did for us, but we didn’t lock down enough defensively and let SI control the tempo.”

The defensive pressure that Serra showed in the fourth-quarter push largely vanished after a 9-3 run to open the game, as a Begovich dunk spurred an 8-0 SI run to close the first. Antonio Abeyta got into foul trouble and Parker McDonald struggled to shoot until he scored seven of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Serra, St. Ignatius, Riordan and Mitty are all now tied for first in the WCAL at 3-1. SI will host Riordan at 6:30 on Saturday night.

Mission 75, Balboa 51: Andre Villarino shot 8-for-14 and made five 3-pointers, scoring a game-high 21 points as Mission (7-9, 4-0 AAA) led the Buccaneers by 20 at halftime en route to an easy road victory. Villarino also had five steals, and the Bears also got 14 points from Jaraughn Torno, 12 points and nine rebounds from David Sonnier and nine points apiece from Ben Knight and Matt Cohn. Balboa (2-14, 1-2) got 19 points from 6-foot-7 center Alex Mueller and 13 from Emani Morris.

University 58, Lick-Wilmerding 46: Even with Max Fried in foul trouble, the Red Devils dominated their arch rivals on the road, opening up a 35-19 halftime lead and never letting the Tigers get closer than 10 in the second half. University (12-7, 3-1 BCL West) got 14 points from Charley Moore and Fried still scored 13, while Jacques McFadden added 11 and Raki Cabrera-Scarlata finished with 10. Lick-Wilmerding (15-5, 1-3) got a game-high 19 from center Zach Johnson and 17 from freshman Colly Urdan.

Stuart Hall 65, Marin Academy 42: The Knights remained perfect in BCL West play by outscoring the visiting Wildcats in every quarter, leading 30-17 at halftime and 47-30 after three.

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