MCCULLOUGH GYM — A big first quarter provided the separation the St. Ignatius Wildcats needed on Thursday night in the semifinals of the 42nd Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic, as the hosts used that early lead to fight off numerous charges from the Mission Bears for a 60-55 victory.
The rematch of last season’s memorable Northern California semifinal looked like it was going to be a blowout early as SI raced out to a 23-8 lead, but Mission never went away.
That first quarter, as well as the third quarter in which the Wildcats held a 16-9 advantage, showed what St. Ignatius (6-3) can do when controlling the pace. 6’4 forward Teddy Snyder scored nine of his 15 points in the first quarter, and his basket coming out of halftime set the tone for the third quarter as the Wildcats returned to sharing the ball and getting to high-percentage areas.
“I think in the first quarter, we had a gameplan and we came out and executed,” said head coach Rob Marcaletti. “We were really sharing the ball, pushing the transition and doing the stuff we wanted to do.”
Despite the early surge and multiple occasions on which it looked like St. Ignatius was pulling away, Mission (4-6) hung tough throughout the game. Ben Knight led the Bears, and all scorers, with 18 points. Marcel McRae shared the team lead with eight rebounds despite standing at just 5-foot-8.
The teams traded 6-0 runs to open the second quarter, but Mission scored the final 11 points of the half to trail just 29-25 at the break. The one span in the second quarter that wasn’t dominated by Mission was a pair of threes by Brandon Beckman (13 points).
A Matt Redmond transition layup built the lead to 42-28 in the third, but a pair of U’Jah Pratt free throws got the Bears back within single digits to start the fourth. Mission’s comeback might have been completed if not for Darrion Trammell’s excellence at the free throw line. The St. Ignatius point guard, who led his team with 17 points, went 10-of-11 at the line, including 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter. He hit two with 4:17 remaining to make it 53-40 before Mission went on an 11-2 run, capped off by four straight points from Pratt to make it a four-point game with 1:09 remaining. Pratt found Knight underneath for a layup, scored on the following possession and then got a steal and layup to get Mission within four for the first time since halftime.
There would be no further drama. St. Ignatius got a crucial offensive rebound from Aidan Kelly, who’s stepped up with injuries in the post, and a pair of Benjamin Davis free throws to build the lead back to six. Trammell hit two more from the line with 21.4 left to seal the game.
St. Ignatius will host Loyola (Los Angeles) in the tournament championship at 6 p.m. Friday, and Mission will face Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma, WA) in the third-place game at 4:30.