Head Coach Cam Joyce knew that the Battle of the ‘Cats would be a brawl. The 9-4 Wildcats entered it on a three-game win streak following an absolute blowout win against Cleveland Central Catholic. The series against Cleveland teams was far from over as the Tigers from Cleveland Heights entered The Wildcat Den with a talented roster. In last year’s meeting, Heights star player E.J. Farmer unleashed 33 points against the blue and gold in a nail-biter. Coming off multiple 20+ point games, junior Jon Effertz was on a hot streak with a total of 37 threes on the season, tying his record from last year. In addition, the Tigers were very powerful on the boards and the Wildcat captains, Henry Raynor and Will Yontek, had a lot to handle.
With several players playing elite basketball for the Tigers, the focus was heavily on defending Farmer. The junior guard has had multiple high double-digit scoring performances so far this season. He has offers from several schools in Ohio and received interest from Michigan State. For the Wildcats, senior Mike Mattimore has been one of the best perimeter defenders. After strong defensive games against Elmore James from Brush and Corey Tripp from Medina, he had a big role in defending Farmer. In a pre-game interview, Mattimore highlighted some of his game-plan against the versatile lefty: “He is a very talented player… He is very skilled and the key is to limit his shots and make his time on the floor difficult.”
The quarter began with a layup from the freshman phenom C.J. Little. On the other end, Farmer got it going early with a beautiful post finish. Henry Raynor began a night of impressive play with a tough and-1. He continued the hot streak with 7-0 run all on his own and took the Wildcats to a 9-2 lead. After a three from the Tigers’ Dushawn Hill, Raynor scored once again, putting him at 9 points alone in the first quarter. Trying to battle back, Farmer left it all on the floor after muscling his way in for an and-1. Responding was Raynor once again with an offensive board after Effertz’s missed three. The 1-on-1 battle continued with Farmer’s smooth finish. Raynor responded again, battling inside and scoring over Cleveland Heights’ big man Jaylen Davis. Looking to pad the lead a tad more, Effertz connected from mid range and took the ‘Cats to a 17-10 lead. The quarter closed with a Tiger 6-0 run. Raynor led the way with 13 points in the quarter alone.
The second began after an eventful 17-16 first quarter. Farmer showed his lethality with a step-back three from way downtown. Saint Ignatius junior Timmy Ruddy stayed 100 percent on the season from the free throw line after tying the game at 19. Raynor ended a scoring drought for Ignatius on a nice baby hook. With 4 minutes left in the fast-paced half, Wildcat freshman Carter Jackson splashed a three from the center. A Wildcat turnover left talented scorer Davon Smith open for an and-1 layup, then an inbounds play bucket gave Cleveland Heights a 27-24 lead. A good run for Cleveland Heights went cold after junior A.J. Fletcher hit a floater. The 6’10 C.J Yarian tried to finish the quarter with a buzzer beater, but was unable to hit. Heights held a 29-26 halftime lead, even after Raynor’s perfect half.
“I got hot because I stayed alert on the offensive boards. My first points were an and-1 off an offensive rebound and then a fastbreak. We have such great shooters. They open up the floor for us bigs and it helps a lot,” said Raynor.
Effertz struggled to get hot in the first few minutes of the second half. Raynor was there to have his back and end the fruitless first few minutes with a steal and coast to coast lay-in. Then Effertz made it count on the other end of the floor, taking a hard charge.
Coach Cam always says “Basketball is a game of runs,” and the Wildcats played with that mindset. With E.J. Farmer struggling to heat up, the boys from Lorain Avenue jolted 7-1 run, taking an important 33-31 lead. The seesaw battle began with a 35-foot trifecta by Tiger guard Bryon Ottrix. Raynor answered with a smooth finger roll to tie the game up at 35. Farmer tacked on a three of his own on the next possession and immediately after, Effertz poked a steal away for the Cats and finessed his way in for a smooth jumper. With no intention of letting up, two beautiful setup passes from Raynor and Jackson gave Yarian a nice floater for the 3 point lead. The cold spell continued for Cleveland Heights as the Wildcats outscored the Tigers 15-9 in the third quarter, giving the home team a 41-38 lead.
In need of a solid close to the game, a great play call from Coach Joyce to start the fourth quarter freed up Yontek for a nice finish inside. Heights struggled from behind the arc initially in the quarter but had no intention of letting up. Raynor and Jackson each created and connected on two layups, giving the Cats a commanding nine-point lead. Jaylen Dabis finally uncapped the lid for Cleveland Heights with a corner three.
In the blink of an eye, C.J. Little bolted in transition with an acrobatic finish. The three-point parade picked up for the black and yellow after Davon Smith’s shot from straight away. Senior Mike Coyne did similar with a splash of his own. A three-point game was no time to let up, and Raynor knew that. Henry must have eaten his Cheez Doodles tonight, notching a career high 26 points and shooting 12/14 from the field. He dropped in another bucket to extend the lead to 54-48. Two free throws from Effertz and one from Mattimore capped off an exciting Wildcat winner. The 57-51 dub put Joyce’s boys on a 4 game win streak.
A game won by great coaching was recognized after the game by Raynor, who said, “We ran rebound drills all week in practice and he gets all the credit for our success.” On the defensive end, Raynor highlighted the effectiveness of the press: “[Coach Cam] has been having us work on the press a ton and credit to him for implementing a great defense that truly stopped them tonight.”
Coach Cam said resilience has helped the Cats rebound with this latest four-game winning streak: “We cannot get caught up on those losses. It’s so important for us to be able to bounce back after tough losses and get that confidence back… It’s a long season and we want to play our best basketball toward the end. We are getting better, and it is great to see.”
The Wildcats will battle Villa Angela St. Joseph on Saturday, January 23. An excellent statement win at home puts momentum in favor of a now 9-4 Wildcat squad. Be sure to tune in on the SIBN for a great matchup.