In rivalry games, you can toss all rankings out the window.
That's part of the reason why the No. 13 ranked team in Northeast Ohio looked better than the No. 1 ranked squad for lengthy stretches on Friday evening.
Despite outplaying St. Edward for much of the game, the Saint Ignatius varsity basketball team could not overcome mistakes and missed layups. In a raucous Sullivan Gym, the Wildcats fell to the Eagles, 61-55, in the first matchup between Cam Joyce and Eric Flannery.
"We were the better team tonight, in my mind," Joyce said after the game. "I know the score doesn't indicate that, but I thought we beat ourselves. They're a good team, and I have a ton of respect for Coach Flannery and the program he's built. But tonight we were the better team."
The Eagles started hot, with a 9-2 run to open the game. But the Wildcats quickly bounced back, with Chase Toppin leading the way. The senior tabbed four points and Danny Nunez helped with a trey and a layup, helping to set the Wildcats ahead 13-10 late in the quarter. But a late layup by the Eagles set the score at 13-12 Cats entering the second stanza.
Missed layups characterized the second quarter for Saint Ignatius. The Wildcats hit a cold spell, going a significant stretch without any points. As a result, the Eagles were able to build an 8-point lead.
"Turnovers and missed layups hurt us. We missed 9 layups in the first half," Joyce said. "Do I expect us to make every layup? No, but you have to capitalize on those shots and we didn't tonight. Great teams will make you pay for it, and they found a way to win."
Thankfully, the Wildcats' offense awoke in the later stages of the second half. Emmett Hanna and Tommy Spear drilled critical treys, while Spear also hit a pair of free throws after drawing a foul. Toppin and Henry Raynor also scored a bunny apiece.
But a Grant Huffman 3-pointer late in the half was a dagger. The Eagles headed into the locker room with a 27-25 lead, instead of the Wildcats holding the lead at the break.
The Wildcats stormed out of the break, playing hard and fast. Nunez found the bottom of the net with two clutch 3-pointers. Toppin continued to pave lanes to the hoop, with a pair of deuces. But perhaps Will Yontek stepped up the best. The junior brought the crowd to its feet with a drive to the hoop. Yontek hit his layup, drew a foul, and converted a free throw. He also drilled an open look from behind the arc, helping to build a 37-33 Saint Ignatius lead.
But the Wildcats did not build a big enough lead to hold off the Eagles. Fouls sent St. Edward to the line, and helped them take a 47-43 lead into the fourth.
"In the third quarter, we had a chance to extend the lead, and we turned the ball over and fouled them," Joyce said. "When they couldn't score, we sent them to the free-throw line and gave them points to get back in the game."
Even still, Wildcats rallied to another run in the fourth. This time, Griffin Hanna stepped up to the fore. "Superman" nailed two huge 3-pointers in clutch fashion. His heroics helped the Wildcats even things out at 51-51.
But again, as the Eagles experienced another dryspell, the Wildcats helped them out with a foul.
"We beat ourselves. We tied it at 51, and they came down the court, and we played good defense. Then we let Bova get in the lane, and CJ goes for the block instead of walling up," Joyce said. "Bova is a good player, and he gets an and-one. I told the guys that we needed another stop. I told the guys, 'The game will be won in the defensive end.' I thought we did that consistently. We just had a couple of times where we were right there."
The Eagles held a 54-51 lead for seemingly an eternity. Then the Eagles added another few points to make it 57-51 late, taking time off the clock with passing in the offensive end.
In the fourth quarter, the game continued to be tough. Henry Raynor struggled with some physical play inside, as he was seemingly fouled by Eagles holding his arm. The Eagles made a concerted effort to hold Raynor down (sometimes in ways that seemed like fouls), and the 6'7 forward was limited to 4 points.
"I told the guys at halftime, 'This is a physical game. They're not going to call every call, and you can't play looking for the foul.' If they call it, great, but if not, you need to play through it," Joyce said. "The refs are human and will mistakes. Maybe you got fouled, and the ref missed it. It happens. Just keep playing hard. Henry needs to play better and he will. He's a good player. He didn't show that tonight, but the best part about basketball is that you get another opportunity tomorrow to showcase your ability. You learn from it, and next time you finish stronger and hold onto the ball better.
"You can't get caught up with the refs. I tell the guys, 'Let me take care of the refs.' Do I think we got a great whistle tonight? Probably not, but that's not why we lost. You don't control what they call, you need to control what you can, that's basketball."
The Eagles managed to hold on in the waning minutes. Saint Ignatius missed some deep shots, and while Chase Toppin added a few late points, the visitors walked out of the barn with a 61-55 win.
Toppin led the team with 14 points and 5 assists. Nine different players scored for the Wildcats on Friday night.
Despite the loss, Coach Cam was happy with the crowd and with the effort.
"The crowd was electric, on both sides. It's a great environment for the kids. For me, I was excited to be in that environment because I never played my rival in high school," Joyce said. This was my first high school rivalry being involved in, and it was a great time for both sides. We competed. We gave a great effort, and we'll see those guys again."
Losing to your rival stings, but the Wildcats have no time to mope.
The men of Ohio City will be heading east to face Warren Harding on the road tonight. The Raiders are a very good team, standing at 8-4 on the year.
"I told the guys, 'I know it hurts. It should hurt. Use this to motivate you for tomorrow.' I know it's tough, but we have a really good team on the road," Joyce said. "They've only lost one game at home, coincidentally to St. Ed's. They're a good basketball team. We have a big one tomorrow. I'll be very excited to go out there and play Warren Harding and get a win."
But in the back of their heads, the Wildcats will be ready for revenge come February.
"We'll see them in February, and when that opportunity comes, let's steal one there," Joyce said. "They didn't play their greatest game, and part of the reason for that is because of what we did out there. We look forward to when we see them in February."