The fates seemed to be conspiring against the Wildcats on Friday.
Over the course of the week, six members of the varsity squad missed practice at some point. As many have joked, the "Ignatius flu" or "Ignatius cold" is making the rounds, and striking down many. Cold shooting early on compounded the Wildcats' woes.
And of course, St. Edward's talent also cannot be denied. The Eagles have several Division I-bound players, along with a total of eight seniors. There's a reason why local polls universally rank St. Edward as No. 1.
Even with all of that going against them, the Wildcats nearly returned from a 26-point deficit.
But despite showing a lot of heart, the Wildcats fell short, 70-58, in Lakewood on Friday evening.
"I always tell the guys, 'It's not over til the clock shows 0:00 at the end of the fourth quarter,'" said head coach Cam Joyce. "We're always going to keep playing hard, you never know."
The game began as a defensive struggle. The gym sat eerily quiet for the first five minutes or so of the game, as the Eagles made Friday a "Silent Night" theme, holding off all noise until they scored 10 points. The Wildcats' defense kept the gym quiet for a long stretch.
At the end of the first, the Wildcats trailed 15-11. Chase Toppin led the way with 4 points. Henry Raynor chipped in a bucket, as did Griffin Hanna. Jon Effertz also hit a trey.
The second quarter saw the Wildcats narrow the deficit to just 1 point, at 23-22. Effertz and CJ Yarian each tabbed 2 points, and Toppin poured in 5 more impressive points. But then turnovers began impacting the Wildcats, limiting the offense's effectiveness. Raynor also experienced early foul trouble, keeping him out of the game.
The Eagles took full advantage. The hosts charged to a 10-0 run to end the half, storming into the break with a 33-22 lead.
St. Edward did not slow down in the third quarter. Turnovers and cold shooting continued to plague the Wildcats, while the Eagles fed off of the energy of the home crowd. With Grant Huffman and Tae Tae Blanton combining for 18 points, the Eagles stretched the lead to 48-24 and then 56-30.
But St. Edward turned on cruise control too early.
The Wildcats slowly chipped away at the 26-point deficit. Saint Ignatius started to be aggressive in driving to the cup and opening space in the post. Raynor came alive for four points, and Will Yontek shined. The junior tallied three layups and notched an and-one. Tommy Spear also scored another deuce.
By the end of the third, the Wildcats had slimmed the deficit to 56-37, thanks to a 7-0 run to end the stanza.
Raynor and Toppin took over the game for the Wildcats in the fourth. The visitors rallied to a 9-1 run to open the fourth, fueled by solid defense and points near the bucket. Effertz buried a huge 3-pointer to narrow the deficit to 57-46 with five minutes left.
The Wildcats erased more of the deficit in the next three minutes. A short Toppin jumper made the score 62-56 with just two minutes remaining.
In the next possession, which proved to be critical, the Eagles hit a 3-pointer after fighting for a defensive rebound. The Eagles forced a quick turnover and scored 2 more quick points. Suddenly, the Eagles' lead stood at 11 points.
"We got it to 6 points. If we get that defensive rebound, now we have a chance to cut it to 4 points. But they get the rebound and Bova hits the 3," Joyce said. "It was a big shot. I told the guys, you don't want to put yourself in big holes against a team like that. But I loved the effort. That's been our motto all season. Our guys are going to play hard, even if we get down."
The Eagles did not relent in the final minutes, and walked away with a 70-58 victory after a scare from the Wildcats.
Toppin led the Wildcats with 15, while Raynor tabbed 14. Effertz also hit double digits with 10 points. Most of the Eagles' scoring game from its big three – 23 by Blanton, 17 by Huffman, and 12 by Montorie Foster. Only five Eagles tallied points on the scoresheet on Friday.
With the loss, the Wildcats drop to 12-7 with three games left in the regular season. Next weekend will see the Wildcats head to Erie to face Cathedral Prep as well as a home game vs. Rhodes. Before then, the Wildcats will find out where they stand with playoff seeding on Sunday.
But first up on the agenda is getting healthy.
"This week was a tough week, because we had a lot of guys out due to sickness," said Coach Cam. "That's no excuse, I'm sure they had guys banged up, too. It's that time of year. But it made it a little tougher with preparation. We were out three starters for three practices, and Danny couldn't do anything tonight. He tried but he couldn't go. But we go back to the drawing board and get ready for Erie Prep, which will be a tough road game."