On a 5-0 win streak, Head Coach Cam Joyce and the Wildcats were hungry to keep their undefeated record alive. With a tough schedule ahead featuring teams such as St. Vincent-St. Mary and rivals St. Edward, the Wildcats were approaching a particularly rigorous portion of their schedule.
The first challenge was set against the highly ranked Lutheran East Falcons. Their team is powered by not one, two, three, or four Seniors, but five outstanding starters all with 3 years of experience under their belt and a state runner-up result in 2019. The Basketball Cats knew they had a tough meeting ahead of them and they came into the road game poised to stay victorious.
After the Cats’ last win against Richmond Heights, Senior Captain Henry Raynor said, “We are going to work on the ability to keep battling. We are doing our best on executing and limiting turnovers.”
The turnovers became a huge factor all throughout the Falcon vs. Wildcat matchup.
A high scoring first quarter began with Henry Raynor finessing his way in for a bucket around the Georgetown commit, 6’8 Jalin Billingsley. On the next possession, Jon Effertz started what was set to be a historic night for the junior guard. Knocking down a three, the Cats took a 5-4 lead. The tug-of-war was yanked in both directions after the crafty Falcon senior Sirr Hughes nailed a corner three. Effertz responded with a beautiful step back jumper, tying the game at 7. A scoring drought held each team at 7 for several minutes until Lutheran East senior Collin Albert dropped in points from behind the arc. Raynor and Effertz each responded with a field goal on back-to-back possessions.
Senior Alex Garcia came on with for the final push of the quarter and came up big with an assist to Shondo Green. At the end of the first, the Wildcats trailed 17-19 with an astounding eight lead changes throughout the quarter. Raynor led the way in scoring with 8 points--all within the paint.
The second quarter began with a momentum swinging triple from Albert, whose second shot from range extended the Falcons’ lead to 5. Effertz connected once again as he shunned Billingsley aside to lay in his first points in the paint. Looking to take back the lead, Coach Cam subbed in the underclassmen. Sophomore Braydn Szczpaniak assisted a beautiful basket in transition to freshman Carter Jackson. As Effertz and the Wildcats fought to get back, the turnovers piled on, giving a solid 8-0 run to the Falcons. Hunting to cut that lead, Junior A.J. Fletcher tacked on a layup. Still on a mission, Effertz finished the half with 13 points. Trailing 34-27 at the half, Coach Cam and the squad were forced to play catch up.
The junior combo began the half with a bang. Fletcher lasered in a three and Effertz finished again in transition, cutting the lead to 2. Great defense by the two senior captains created a drought for the Falcons. Will Yontek and Raynor held their own down low for several minutes as the offense went to work. In need of some momentum, the team’s hype man Braydn Szczpaniak dropped in a trifecta right in front of the blue and gold bench.
Just when the Wildcats needed it most, a foul got called on Raynor’s field goal attempt and a technical foul got called on Jalin Billingsley after complaining about the previous call. Unfortunately, the Wildcats went 1 for 4 on that long trip to the line to only trim the lead 38-41. The momentum stayed with the Wildcat offense after a nice contested shot by Yontek. That changed immediately after the Falcons pushed their way to another 5-0 run including a monster dunk by senior Jordan Cannon. The quarter closed with the Wildcats trailing 42-45.
By this point, Effertz had put it all on the floor, shooting 7 of 9 from the field scoring 18 points and still had another quarter left.
Early in the fourth, Billingsly bodied his way in for the first points of the quarter. Raynor answered directly after with a powerful and-1. Scoring came too easy for the Falcons with back to back points. Raynor once again was quick to answer with another lay-up.
The Wildcats still trailed 47-53. Putting the Falcons in the bonus, senior Jared Larry easily made two free throws with 4:30 left on the clock. Right when they needed it, Shondo Green hit a fadeaway right over the Lutheran East big man to make it a 3 point game. Unable to hold the close game, a 4-0 run put the game nearly out of reach 59-52, but a quick 4-0 run for the Wildcats cut the lead down 59-56, giving the blue and gold faithful one last chance for hope.
In need of a late game stop, Billingsly got an easy put back among the sea of Wildcat big men. The score at 58-61, the hero Jon Effertz fought his way in for his 22nd point of the game and made it a one point game with 34 seconds left. On the other side of the floor, Sirr Hughes headed to the line missing the first. Astoundingly, the Falcons got called for an illegal substitution, cancelling out the next free throw.
With possession in the hands of the Wildcats, Coach Cam brewed up a final play. A great defensive effort took a lot of time off the clock and left the Wildcats to call a timeout with 8 seconds left. On the inbound, in need of a bucket, the pass was stolen away and taken all the way to the hole for a dagger.
The Wildcats fell for the first time this year, 63-60, in a hard fought battle. The team has a knack for these nail-biter games. They will take the hardwood at home on New Year’s Eve for a 2 p.m. tip off at Sullivan Gymnasium against St. Vincent-St. Mary.