With eight games and one month remaining in the regular season, the Saint Ignatius basketball team has some work to do.
The Wildcats are in need of two things – a player to take over the game, and toughness.
Coach Cam Joyce said as much following a 57-51 loss to Cleveland Central Catholic at home on Saturday.
"We gotta be tougher. That's not to say that we're not a tough team," Joyce said. "When I say tough, that doesn't mean pushing somebody. That means being strong mentally and physically, as well as being able to execute what we're asking. That also means finishing at the basket. I thought we played on our heels a bit at times. I told the guys, 'We have to attack.' They have some bigs, but you have to go at some of those guys."
The Wildcats looked great at the start of the game, and CJ Yarian was much of the reason why. With Henry Raynor out due to injury, Yarian stepped into the limelight in the early goings. Yarian scored the Wildcats' first 11 points, finding open spots in transition and in set plays. Danny Nunez, Griffin Hanna, and Chase Toppin all found him on nice looks in the first quarter.
But the Ironmen did not cede any ground, always staying right there, even after a Griffin Hanna 3-pointer and 3 points by Tommy Spear. The Cats held a precipitous 17-16 lead after the first quarter.
In the second stanza, the Wildcats struggled to find as much room inside. Will Yontek scored a bucket down low and Emmett Hanna scored on a teardrop shot, but besides that, the Wildcats' forwards did not score. Hanna dropped in another trey, Nunez got a jumper to go, and Toppin hit a shot from the free-throw line.
With two minutes left in the half, the Wildcats held a 27-24 lead. Then, Cleveland Central Catholic slowed things down, as they love to do. That strategy worked well, as a late 3-pointer put the Ironmen ahead, 29-27, heading into the break. The Wildcats would not have the lead again in Sullivan Gym.
The Ironmen fired out of the break with passion. The visitors rolled to a 12-2 lead, suddenly pushing their lead to double-digits. The Wildcats managed just 4 points in the quarter, with only Jon Effertz and Will Yontek making tallies on the scoresheet. The Cats trailed 42-31 after three.
The lead stretched to 13 early in the fourth before the Wildcats came roaring back into it. Griffin Hanna lofted a 3-pointer, but much of the work was done near the rim. Yontek pushed in 4 points. Toppin slashed to the hoop for 2 points and drew a foul for another 2 at the stripe. Emmett Hanna got a bucket and made 4 free throws.
Halfway through the stanza, the Wildcats trailed just 46-42.
In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats' defense looked great. The men of Ohio City forced 11 turnovers in the fourth, according to Cleveland.com's Matt Goul. The Saint Ignatius defense turned suffocating down the stretch.
But missed opportunities haunted the Wildcats. On several fast breaks, the Wildcats missed layups and miscommunicated on passes. They also missed some 3-pointers. The Wildcats had chances, but just could not seem to find the bottom of the net.
The Ironmen hit their free throws late and preserved a 57-51 win.
"I thought we settled for a lot of 3's. Some were good looks, but some nights the 3's won't go down. Griffin's last shot when it rattled in and out, that summed up our night," Joyce said. "We missed a lot of open looks, but we also missed a lot of layups, just like against Ed's. We're right at the basket, but for whatever reason our focus, like right-handed guys shooting on the left-hand side, trying to place the ball, not using the basketball, not going up strong. That's toughness. We don't need to get a technical or punch somebody. We need to be able to execute mentally and physically."
Yarian was the only Wildcat to surpass double digits in points, with 11. Griffin Hanna notched 9 points, while Yontek and Emmett Hanna each finished with 8. Yontek topped the team with 7 rebounds, while Toppin led the way with 5 assists, according to SIBN's Gianluca DiGiacomo.
The Wildcats are back in action next Friday at home vs. Louisville for Faculty and Staff Appreciation Night.