Where do you turn in 2020 when you want to add a game to your schedule? The short answer: Twitter.
After putting the call out, Head Coach Cam Joyce and the boys picked up another short-notice game. Coming off an absolute brawl with the Brush Arcs, the Wildcats were hungry to stay unbeaten and had a challenge ahead of them. Winning the Federal League last year, their next opponent was a successful team: the Green Bulldogs, who were 3-2 coming into this outing, with two tough losses to Medina and St. Vincent-St. Mary.
The Bulldogs are fueled by their three headed monster: Trey Martin, Zack Oddo, and Nathan Smith. All three of them have had at least one 20+ point game this season. These tough matchups are nothing new for the Wildcats, who came into this one with a defensive mindset.
The game began with senior captain Henry Raynor going to work in the post and opening the scoring with a smooth finish. To add on to his hot start, the senior bodied his way in for a successful and-1. The Wildcat defense kept scoring to a minimum for the Bulldogs, only allowing 6 points through most of the first quarter. Substitutions for Coach Cam came up big after junior Shondo Green nudged the momentum for the Cats. The Bulldogs fired up a three but Shondo blocked it out of the air and into the hands of Jon Effertz. The junior sharpshooter lobbed a beautiful pass back to Green in transition for an easy layup.
After the long run for the Wildcats, Green’s 6’5” junior Zack Oddo hit a three to tie the game up at 9 with about a minute left in the quarter. Green rallied to take the lead as junior guard Marc Adam pushed around multiple defenders and floated a buzzer beater to give the Bulldogs an 11-9 advantage.
A Wildcat scoring drought continued until senior Mike Mattimore dropped a mid-range jumper in. Green drained the clock a full minute searching for an open shot. The Wildcat defense locked up on back to back possessions. The game quickly became fast paced and the Wildcats’ freshman guard jumped into action. C.J. Little stormed down the court finishing on a flashy bucket. Effertz, still looking for his first points, found a 3 ball in his bag to take a three point lead. Then the Bulldogs took advantage of the size mismatch and connected on a putback. On the next possession, C.J. Yarian responded to a solid bucket from Zack Oddo with a corner three-point bomb. The quick five-point effort from C.J. closed the half with a 21-15 lead for the Blue and Gold.
Coach Joyce said, “Basketball is a game of runs and we’ve been forced to make runs when we’ve needed them.” The Wildcats have used momentum to come away with a handful of points all season and Coach Cam has been excellent at seizing those moments.
The second half started off with a lightshow from beyond the arc. Effertz dropped in a beauty for the Wildcats and his 13th made triple on the year. Green senior Trey Martin and Zack Oddo both had threes to kick off the quarter for the Bulldogs. C.J. Little bursted into speed and came away with two more points on an athletic finish. In an effort to respond, Raynor denied the layup on a monster block. As the game became more intense, the Bulldogs struggled to get upcourt. Little went to work picking a defender’s pocket and assisting the fast break bucket for senior captain Will Yontek.
On the final possession of the third quarter, Saint Ignatius junior Charlie Hyland came in and clamped up the Green point guard. The quarter came to a close at 30-29, with the Wildcats grasping onto the narrow lead.
Mattimore started the fourth quarter off with a three-point field goal. Another defensive lockdown led to Mattimore dropping a dime to Charlie Hyland, finishing on a layup with all the contact in the world.
The Wildcats led by 4 with six minutes left in the quarter, but a drought began for the Cats after a nice finish from Green’s Nathan Smith. To make things even worse for the boys from Lorain Avenue, Zack Oddo cut the lead to one with an and-1. Wildcat junior A.J. Fletcher, the hero of the last Saint Ignatius game, answered with a triple from the wing to make it 40-36.
Foul trouble became an issue for both teams with 3:40 left in the final quarter. The Bulldogs took a long possession in hopes of keeping the Wildcats scoreless in the final minutes. Will Yontek stopped those hopes with a sweet block on Nathan Smith. Little put a cherry on top with a clean euro-step finish to extend the lead 42-37.
With just about a minute left, Effertz held the ball to take time off the clock. He dumped it off to Fletcher who took a wide open three, which missed. Raynor claimed the rebound and collected some points on a nice hook shot.
With under a minute left, Fletcher tried to force a pass off the inbound pass. The turnover opened up a seam for a Nathan Smith 3-ball. A second attempt on the inbound had a near same result, but Coach Cam called a time out. With a third attempt, Fletcher turned it over once again. A detrimental mistake gave one more possession to the Bulldogs. Draining the clock, Marc Adam missed a layup off the glass but it fell into the hands of Zack Oddo who cinched a game-tying putback.
Tied at 44, Jon Effertz threw up a prayer from deep but to no avail. “I tell the boys to relax,” said Joyce, “Sometimes you’re on a run and sometimes they’re on a run. That’s basketball. We needed defensive stops.”
Overtime began and Yarian nailed a mid-range jumper to add to his scoring total, making it 7 on the night. Green struggled to score, but on the other end, the Cats were rolling. Little zipped a pass to Raynor for two points off the pick and roll. Next time down the floor, the freshman phenom shook his defender with a nasty crossover and finished smooth with the left hand. A 6-0 run gave the Cats a 50-44 lead early in overtime. In need of a bucket, the Bulldogs’ Trey Martin found a lane and took an easy layup. Mattimore was sent to the line on the next possession and connected on both shots from the charity stripe. Trey Martin attempted the same move, but Yarian was there for the defense.
Mattimore went back to the line and made both once again with 30 seconds left. That solidified the Wildcat’s fourth straight victory, 54-46, which proved the depth behind this season’s basketball squad.
Henry Raynor led the way in scoring with 13 and Mattimore was right behind with 12. Eight different Wildcats scored throughout the game. C.J. Little had another career game with eight points, three assists, and a steal.
Little has embraced his role on the team early: “Me being a point guard lets me be a leader. It’s hard, but I’m doing it.” The freshman has three more seasons ahead of him and he said, “I want a state championship and I want to grow as a player and a teammate.”
“Coming out victorious in four straight games is a testament to [our team’s] work ethic. The guys are stepping up,” said Coach Joyce. “I just think mentally, we never get too high or too low. I was telling the guys to be excited about that victory. We will get better.”
In his second year at the helm, Joyce is taking the squad down the right path and they are embracing it. The Wildcats will battle a tough Richmond Heights team on Wednesday, the 23rd at 6 p.m. for their first home game of the season. Tune in, as usual, on the SIBN!