With the playoff seeding right around the corner, earning victories now is important for the Wildcats.
This weekend, the Saint Ignatius varsity basketball team picked up two key ones, defeating Benedictine on the road on Friday and Villa Angela-St. Joseph at home on Saturday.
"These are two good wins versus two good teams," said head coach Cam Joyce. "St. Joe's is better than their record. I knew they would come out and compete. We have the next man up mentality. We've had some injuries and guys sick this week, but the guys have done well. Whoever I call on, they've been able to contribute. This weekend, Mike Mattimore, Nick Lamirand, Declan Mangan, and Tommy Spear all played well off the bench.
"It was good. These were two teams I believed we could beat, and should beat, but it's one thing for me to say it and it's another for the guys to do it. Now, we get ready for the big one next week."
Saint Ignatius – 66, Benedictine – 58
In the early going on Friday, the Wildcats showcased their athletic abilities inside and range from deep.
Most importantly, Henry Raynor made a triumphant return to the court after dealing with an injury the last couple weeks. Raynor quickly re-established himself in the post, throwing down a monstrous alley-oop dunk off a toss from Chase Toppin.
Jon Effertz also showcased his shooting, setting the score at 24-15 Wildcats after the first quarter with a nice 3-pointer. Effertz led the team with 11 points after one.
But Benedictine clawed back into the game in the second stanza. Fouls caught up with the Wildcats, and the Bengals trailed by just one at half, despite nice guard play from Danny Nunez and Toppin.
But the third quarter belonged to the Wildcats. The men of Ohio City outscored Benedictine in the third frame, 18-12, advancing the lead to 53-46. Tommy Spear upped the lead to seven with a beautiful layup right before the buzzer.
The Bengals tried to body their way back into the game in the fourth quarter, eventually playing the foul game. But solid free throw shooting and some luck from range helped the Wildcats walk out of Benedictine's historic gym with a 66-58 win.
A total of 13 successful 3-pointers allowed the Wildcats to secure the team's first road win over the Bengals since 2014. The Wildcats own the overall advantage in the series, 31-19, which dates back to 1930-31.
Saint Ignatius – 70, Villa Angela-St. Joseph – 55
For a time, the historic rivalry between these two Westside and Eastside Catholic schools was put on ice. But the series resumed in 2019, and continued on Saturday, as Villa Angela-St. Joseph played in Sullivan Gym for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
As any local basketball fan will tell you, St. Joseph was a basketball powerhouse before merging with Villa Angela in 1990. Even since, VASJ has been very good, winning a state title in 2016-17.
The Vikings are experiencing a bit of a down year, now at 5-9, but VASJ gave the Wildcats a good battle on Saturday evening.
In his first game back in Sullivan Gym, Henry Raynor led the Wildcats in scoring early on. The junior notched three layups for 6 points. Tommy Spear looked great as well, draining two important 3-pointers. Danny Nunez also got in on the action with a trey, assisted by Jon Effertz. But the Vikings led after one, 18-16.
In between quarters, Saint Ignatius honored 2020 Trailblazer Award winner Milton Alan Turner '81. Mr. Turner joined the Saint Ignatius faculty in 1987 as the first black teacher, and later, first black administrator. For the last 33 years, he's impacted too many Ignatians to count as a brilliant Spanish and French teacher.
Following the wonderful ceremony, the Vikings started to gain traction. VASJ built a nice lead, as the Wildcats fell cold and the Vikings found open looks. Raynor tabbed 5 more points and also found Tommy Spear and Mike Mattimore for important threes.
Spear's late 3-pointer narrowed the margin to 32-27 at the break, a manageable deficit for the Wildcats.
"Tommy Spear was huge this weekend," said Joyce. "Tommy has been great the last two weekends. He's figured out his role and he's helped a lot. He's been a spark off of the bench. I'm really proud of him and what he's contributed."
For the second straight evening, the Wildcats made their money in the third. Effertz stole the show once again, hitting three shots from behind the arc. Spear also converted once again, frustrating the Vikings. Emmett Hanna, Griffin Hanna, CJ Yarian, and Raynor all poured in a bucket apiece as well, firing the Wildcats to a 47-42 lead heading into the fourth. And the lead nearly stretched further, as Effertz hit a shot just after the buzzer.
On home court, the Wildcats were not going to surrender the lead, especially not on Father Frank Canfield's 85th birthday.
Effertz continued to shine, cutting to the hoop for a deuce and feeding Raynor twice for soul-crushing alley-oops. Raynor added three more points at the charity stripe to lead the Wildcats with 20 points.
"Before the game, Jon and I were working on lobs at 2 pm when we got here," Raynor said. "It worked out well in the game, and he threw two good balls."
Effertz followed with 11 points, and Spear completed his incredible effort with 17 points. Spear enjoyed a marvelous day, converting on a trio of 3-pointers and adding a couple of free throws. When he's hot, he's hard to stop. Griffin Hanna also came on late with 6 points in the final quarter.
In the end, the Wildcats ran away with it, winning 70-55. And all that without starting point guard Chase Toppin.
After the game, the Wildcats came together to celebrate another birthday – Griffin Hanna. The senior enjoyed a nice night with 8 points and some good rebounds and assists. Hanna is well-loved on this team.
With the victory, the Wildcats improve to 12-6 on the year, including 7-2 at home.
"It was awesome. I really missed the energy because the three games I missed were all at home," Raynor said. "I missed playing here, because it's a great atmosphere every time. This is a good grind-out win, which is what happens come March. We need to get used to these kinds of games."
Next up is a big road test on Friday. The Wildcats will head to Lakewood to face St. Edward, currently ranked No. 1 in Northeast Ohio by Cleveland.com and ranked in the state poll. The Basketball Cats will look to earn a big win right before the brackets are seeded next weekend.