On a festive evening in Sullivan Gym, the Saint Ignatius Wildcats delivered a convincing freshmen-JV-varsity sweep of the Louisville Leopards.
The Wildcats badly wanted to win for several reasons. First off, because they had dropped two straight at home. Secondly, Saint Ignatius Athletics hosted Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night, bringing 75 teachers and staff to the game for free. Before the game, each senior basketball player walked out with his favorite teacher in a touching moment. And lastly, it was Head Coach Cam Joyce's birthday.
For all of these reasons, the varsity squad left no doubt. The Wildcats rolled past Louisville, 68-30.
"As far as my birthday, it's great to win on my birthday," Coach Can said. "I've played and coached on my birthday. But I told the guys they needed to get a win, and they did."
After the Faculty & Staff recognition, the Wildcats came out guns ablazing. Chase Toppin particularly played with passion, cutting to the rim with authority for a team-best 6 points. Griffin Hanna drilled a 3 in style, and Jon Effertz drove for a layup with time expiring in the opening quarter. The Wildcats held an 11-6 lead after the first.
In the second, Louisville continued to slog through the game. The visitors experienced a cold shooting night, only managing 7 points in the second stanza. Meanwhile, Toppin continued his offensive onslaught. The senior point guard reached double digits with two nice drives to the basket. Toppin also hit an open 3-pointer with picture-perfect form. Toppin does not often shoot from deep, but when he does, it often goes in the bucket.
Danny Nunez, Nick Lamirand, and CJ Yarian each put 2 points on the board in the second. Griffin Hanna once again sank a shot from beyond the arc, too. At halftime, the Wildcats enjoyed a commanding 29-13 lead.
Coming out of the break, Louisville started to awaken from its funk. The Leopards charged to a 10-1 run, bringing the deficit within striking distance. But then the Wildcats got hot, and never looked back. Toppin continued to force his way to the hole, drawing fouls. He scored 3 points off free throws in the quarter. Griffin Hanna also converted on a pair of free throws. Tommy Spear played wonderfully, as well. The senior cut to the basket with some nice moves to add 4 points, showcasing his ability to put points on the board.
A key moment came when Effertz nailed a 3-pointer. His trey proved to be clutch, and cemented the idea that the Wildcats would not lose this one. Emmett Hanna scored a deuce, as did Lamirand. The junior multi-sport athletes played quite well off the bench on Friday. And speaking of bench sparks, Declan Mangan provided a big one. Immediately after coming off the bench, Mangan took a feed from a Nunez steal and hit a layup. He later hit another one, helping the Cats enter the fourth with an insurmountable 49-26 advantage.
The fourth quarter proved to be fun, as a lot of Wildcats got on the board. Griffin Hanna started things off by scoring 5 more points to conclude his day with 13. Caleb Blake, Mike Mattimore, and Will Yontek all scored some points. And to the delight of the bench, Braydn Szczepaniak earned his first varsity playing time. The freshman came in and scored on his second shot, soliciting a roar from his teammates and coaches. Shondo Green, Jr. also saw some playing time.
All in all, it was a great team win in which everyone contributed. A total of 12 Wildcats scored, with Toppin leading the way with a season-high 20 points.
"I just wanted to win. We were coming off of two tough losses at home to good teams and good programs. I told the guys, 'Whoever comes in next week, we should want to win. I was a bit worried because Louisville is a good program, they win a lot," Joyce said. "I knew they would play confident, and we only won by 2 last year. So I was happy with the guys' effort defensively. I thought we pressured them, forced turnovers, and played inside out with our size advantage. Chase got to the lane and we put a lot of pressure on the rim to get easy buckets. It was a great team win, everyone contributed. Griffin Hanna played well, Tommy Spear did great, Declan Mangan brought great energy in the third quarter when we dipped a bit."
With some injuries afflicting the bigs, Joyce was glad to see some unheralded Wildcats step into the fore.
The team received great contributions from Yarian, Yontek, and Lamirand.
"The bigs were good, especially Nick Lamirand. We talked about next man up mentality, and these were guys who hadn't played at times," Joyce said. "Because of Henry's injury and because we needed a spark, they were in there. It was great to see guys ready when their number was called. Great win."
With this win in hand, the Wildcats advance to 9-6 on the year. They have a chance to get into double-digits in the win column on Saturday, as Stow-Munroe Falls visits Sullivan Gym. The Cats will have revenge on their minds, as the Bulldogs ended a 10-game winning streak last year, killing some momentum later in the year.
But before varsity tips off at 7 pm, Freshmen Gold and JV will play Stow at 4 pm and 5:30 pm, respectively.
The Freshmen Blue Cats bested the Leopards, 53-27, and the JV Cats rolled to a 56-41 win over Louisville with a huge push in the second half.