Sometimes, just because you want something doesn't mean you get to have it.
The Wildcats wanted a storybook ending to the season. Head Basketball Coach Cam Joyce hoped to lead his men to a deep playoff run in his first year. But it was not meant to be.
The Saint Ignatius varsity basketball team suffered a heart-wrenching defeat to Rhodes in the District Semifinal at Lakewood High School on Thursday night, 50-48.
The Wildcats had opportunities to advance to the next round. With 1.5 seconds left and down by 2, the Cats toed the free-throw line with a chance to tie. Both shots missed. The ensuing inbound also proved unsuccessful. And so the Saint Ignatius basketball season ended.
"It's a group that is hurting," Joyce said after the game. "They gave it their all tonight. I told them that sometimes, just because you want something doesn't mean you're going to get it. The ball didn't bounce our way on a couple of free throws and a couple of possessions, we came up short."
The game started well for the Wildcats. A suffocating defense held Rhodes off the scoreboard until the final minute of the first quarter. Meanwhile, Chase Toppin and the Saint Ignatius offense started chugging along, with Toppin slashing to the bucket to ignite the Wildcats. The men of Ohio City led after the first, 8-3.
The Wildcats charged into the second quarter with a burst of energy. Henry Raynor drained a 3-pointer near the midpoint of the stanza, completing a 7-1 Saint Ignatius run and leading to a Rhodes timeout.
The Rams began to pick up steam after the brief respite. Rhodes started finding a bit of a groove on offense, but the Wildcats remained in the lead. A Danny Nunez 3-pointer provided the 20-13 margin entering halftime.
In the first half, the Wildcats held Rhodes to just 4-of-21 shooting (19%) and outrebounded Rhodes, 18-12. Raynor led the way with 7 points entering the break.
The third quarter belonged to the Wildcats. While Rhodes fought back with a nice stretch of basketball, Saint Ignatius weathered the storm. A clutch Tommy Spear trey from the corner sparked a huge roar from the Wildcats' fans and helped to stretch out the lead.
The Wildcats enjoyed a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter, 39-29. Everything seemed to be coming up aces for the Basketball Cats. But then the Rams got hot and the Wildcats got cold.
Rhodes fired out to an 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter, as the Wildcats struggled to find the bottom of the net. Saint Ignatius did not make a shot from the field for the first seven minutes of the stanza. Raynor also fouled out with three minutes left, taking away the Wildcats' leading scorer, who finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds.
"I talked to our guys in the huddle, 'We have to win those first four minutes. If we win those first four minutes and extend the lead, they'll start to fold.' We didn't win those first four minutes," Joyce said. "Credit to them, they battled back and made some winning plays down the stretch to put them in position to win."
The Wildcats stuck within one possession with three free throws, including two by Toppin. Rhodes hit a clutch 3-pointer, leading 45-42 with 51 seconds left. Coach Cam took a timeout to plot the Saint Ignatius strategy.
Joyce drew up a great play to tie the game. As Toppin waited with the ball on the wing, an Emmett Hanna screen opened up Jon Effertz for a straightaway 3-pointer. Toppin fired an over-the-head pass to Effertz, and the sophomore calmly drained it with 34 seconds left. The Wildcats and Rams stood tied at 45-all.
Rhodes held the ball for the final shot. The play they drew up got a layup with only a few seconds left, but it missed, so overtime was needed to settle things.
After a back-and-forth overtime, the score stood deadlocked at 48-48 with 30 seconds left. Once again, the Rams held for the final shot.
Rhodes drove to the hoop with just seconds remaining, sank a layup, and drew the foul. The Rams fans went bananas, as did the Rhodes bench. But the ensuing celebration was too much for the referees, as they called a technical foul on Rhodes.
So, after Rhodes missed its and-one free throw, the Wildcats headed to the line for a chance to tie it at 50. Both shots missed, and the inbounds play did not work, so the Wildcats' season came to a close.
"We fought," said Coach Cam. "We fought to get it to overtime. As I said, we had chances to win."
Even with an early playoff exit, the 2019-20 campaign was a great one for the Wildcats. With a new up-tempo style and a nearly impenetrable defense, the Basketball Cats were fun to watch.
Despite the loss, Joyce will not soon forget this team and this class of seniors.
"I love those guys," said Coach Cam. "The seniors did a lot for our program. We're just going to keep building. We're going to try to get back to this point next year and get above that. I thank those seniors and that team. They took myself and the coaching staff in with open arms and gave us everything we wanted. I'll always remember those guys. Amazing group of kids to coach for my first year."
Beyond the court, the Wildcats made lasting memories and friendships they'll not soon forget.
"It's about the relationships and the memories as much as it's about winning," said Joyce. "Of course you want to win everything, but the memories you make and the relationships you build along the way are more important. We did that this year. It was a pleasure to coach these guys. Those are tears of joy. Those guys worked really hard. As a coach, that's all you can ask for."
Looking ahead, the future is bright for the Wildcats.
Plenty of talent returns next year, including all of the Wildcats' forwards and several guards. Young talent also abounds at the JV and freshmen levels.
"This is the start. Saint Ignatius basketball has been here for a long time with a lot of good history, but we're going to keep building and fighting. We want more," said Coach Cam. "We want more than District Semifinal or the District Final. We gotta work to get there. It's a process, and we're going to keep working hard, starting with the offseason. We have some really good young guys coming up, so we're excited about next year, but before we get to next year, I want to thank those seniors again."