After taking their first loss against the No. 2 ranked team in Northeast Ohio, the Wildcats’ next match-up was even more challenging. The New Year’s Eve contest against the St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish was not only a brawl with the No. 1 team in the area but the No. 1 team in the entire state. The Irish’s famed basketball program is headed by Dru Joyce, Wildcat Head Coach Cam Joyce’s father. This is the family’s second meeting on the court after last year’s loss for the blue and gold.
Junior Jonathan Effertz walked into this game after an astonishing 22 point performance against the Lutheran East Falcons. Dru Joyce’s boys started off on a quick 5-0 run against the basketball Cats. Hunting for the hot hand, Effertz nailed a 3 ball from the wing late in the first quarter and got a tough layup to fall a few possessions later. The quarter was heavily defensive with a score of 5-4 at the end of the first. That is the lowest-scoring quarter all year for the Wildcats and a big advantage against their high scoring opponent.
Looking to lock down the No. 1 ranked senior in the state and the 26th best senior in the nation, Coach Cam Joyce had his work cut out against Malaki Branham. Branham began the quarter with a deep three to match Effertz’s three on the previous possession.
Tied at 8, senior Alex Garcia found a rebound and a put-back to take the lead. In a full court press, the Wildcats tried to lock up the fast-paced St. Vincent-St. Mary team. Fighting Irish junior guard Sincere Harris took advantage of a defensive change, dropping in a transition bucket. With the Wildcats holding just a single-point lead, Effertz stepped back for yet another deep ball, extending it to 15-11. The Ignatius defense fell asleep, however, allowing a 6-0 run for SVSM. The half came to a close with Malaki Branham’s 13th point of the game and the Wildcats trailing 21-17.
Saint Ignatius was forced to play some catch-up in the third quarter. Branham picked up right where he left off, hitting another three-point bomb on their first possession. For the Wildcats, senior captain Henry Raynor attacked the basket and got his first points of the game. Another run for the Fighting Irish extended their lead to 26-19. Wildcat junior C.J. Yarian ended the run with a great offensive board and a lay in. Raynor did some work in the paint as well, bringing the Cats' deficit all the way back down to just one possession as part of an 8-2 that featured another bucket for Yarian and a smooth finish for freshman C.J. Little. Yet Sincere Harris was a man on a mission, leading the Fighting Irish to a 34-27 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The final quarter began with Senior Will Yontek banging in a three to give him 5 points on the day. When the Irish lead reached 10, Coach Joyce called two timeouts in hopes of a final push. A long 6-0 run took a lot of time off the clock and while Effertz helped bring the lead back in range, the Irish had secured the win. Foul trouble for Saint Ignatius put Irish sharpshooter Austin Rayman at the line, where he was more than efficient. The buzzer went off leaving the Wildcats with a 5-2 record with a 50-40 loss in Sullivan gymnasium.
Effertz was once again a monster on the offensive end for Saint Ignatius, but just not enough for Branham’s 18 point performance.
In their most recent match-up, against Hilliard Bradley on January 2, the Wildcats were missing both Raynor and senior Mike Mattimore. A tough 50-37 loss in Columbus dropped the Wildcats to a 5-3 record.