The Wildcats came into the weekend standing tall with a nine-game winning streak under their belt. After taking the number two seed in the playoffs and taking the number three spot in the most recent Northeast Ohio Rankings, Saint Ignatius was in dire need of finishing strong. Cam Joyce's squad had a target on their back with two solid teams on back-to-back nights looking to give the Wildcats their first loss in a while.
The first team on Saint Ignatius' path to a ten-game winning streak was the Massillon Jackson Polar Bears. Led by senior guard Kevin James, the Polar Bears were extremely versatile offensively. Their sharpshooting backcourt contrasted the recent success from the Wildcat big men. With two high double-digit games in back-to-back games, Will Yontek has been red hot.
Captain Henry Raynor started with a bang after the long trip down south. With his co-captain Yontek's outstanding performance, Raynor knew if he stepped it up, the bigs would be unstoppable. After a beautiful sequence and lob pass from junior Jon Effertz, the Hillsdale Charger commit soared up and slammed it down hard. With 2:50 left in the first, the boys in blue held a 10-5 lead.
The second quarter came quick, and Coach Joyce's Wildcats held the lead. Still looking to pad their lead, Yontek and Effertz each splashed in some threes. About halfway through the quarter, the Cats maintained the charge that they had held all game long. Some mental errors proved costly and began a detrimental shift in momentum for Saint Ignatius. With about four minutes left in half and a score of 22-16, the drought started in Jackson Township. In the second half of the quarter, each team only scored one bucket.
Each team needed a spark to set them up for a long second half, but only one team would get the jolt they needed. With a 24-18 lead to begin the third, Coach Cam's boys zoned in on defense. Unfortunately, after a few minutes passed, the Wildcats were outscored as the Polar Bears controlled a 9-6 run. That run grew in bunches as senior Ben Sullivan didn't skip a beat from behind the Polar Bears arc. Midway through the quarter, Sullivan fired up a dot from deep and tied the game at 28 for the first time since each team shared ten in the opening quarter. On the next possession, Skeriotis put the previous three on instant replay with a similar trifecta to give Jackson their first lead of the night. Raynor scored some more inside, and Effertz did his fair share to snatch back the advantage and ultimately close the quarter with a one-point 36-35 lead.
The final quarter started with a tug of war battle. An and-one for the Polar Bears tied the game up at 38 until three-point sniper Skeriotis dropped in his third deep ball of the night. The Wildcats lost the momentum but continued to fight, but turnovers delayed the comeback until zeros were on the clock.
The first half was all Wildcats, and the second half was all Polar Bears. Raynor led the Cats in scoring with 17, and Skeriotis played a reverse card and threw 17 of his own at the Wildcats. The 57-46 loss snapped the nine-game winning streak for the Wildcats and lowered the team's confidence with an important game the next night.
With a quick turnaround, the Wildcats traveled far in the opposite direction to Mentor to battle against the number one ranked team in all of Ohio, the Mentor Cardinals. This year's scarlet and gray group has been nothing short of perfect. With a standing 18-0 record, averaging 88 points per game, and 40 rebounds per game, this team is remarkable. The Cardinals have a three-headed monster with three senior superstars on their team. Between Steven Key II, Jonah Waag, and none other than Luke Chicone, Mentor is a heavy favorite for the state title. Although the team succeeds with excellent team chemistry, Chicone is a whole separate headline. Not only is he averaging 24 points per game with performances over 30 and even 40 points in a game, but he is also a McDonald's All American nominee, a Northeast Ohio Player of the Year nominee, and a candidate for the Mr. Ohio Basketball title.
Coach Joyce knew that his boys were coming off a tough loss, but determination has taken this Jesuit basketball team a long way this year with no sense of stopping now. The game started with miscommunication and an easy layup for Waag. Effertz tried to respond as he battled his way inside, worked to the free-throw line, and dropped them both. Neither team had their way from three-point land as each team started the game 0 for 4. Kyle Culler ended the drought with two three-balls from straight away to give the Cards a 9-4 lead. The run kept on plowing for Mentor until the 6'10 C.J. Yarian tested the water with a three of his own and hit it. Looking to score again, Key contributed for the first time of the night with an and-one. Little and Effertz took advantage of the final two possessions, scoring each to close the quarter trailing 16-11.
Waag started the second quarter with two trips to the free-throw line, perfect on both attempts. Raynor got inside after creating excellent positioning and scored for the Wildcats' first point of the quarter. Culler answered with his third triple of the game. The give-and-take battle continued with a mid-range jumper from the Freshman Phenom. Off the bench, Alex Garcia rained in a three-pointer. Key and Chincone answered with four quick points. Hunting to keep it a close game, Little scored once again. Mentor still maintained the 30-20 lead midway through the quarter. Chicone had a hunger to achieve as he hit a three, and a smooth layup on back-to-back possessions took the Cardinals up by 14 to close the half.
The Wildcats suffered eight turnovers in the first half and needed a quick turnaround. Waag didn't let that happen as he splashed in a three. On the offensive end for the Wildcats, their fourth charge of the game was called against them. With a 20 point lead, Mentor had this game in the palm of their hands. Yontek scored on a layup, trying to get the momentum rolling. Waag threw up a brick wall to Saint Ignatius' hopes as he connected on his second three of the quarter. Little and Yarian each scored again but still trailed 44-27. With all of the McDonald's All American attention, Culler received a beauty of a pass from Chicone and hit the three. Steven Key tacked on a three of his own to jump ahead even more. Effertz was unable to get going with two missed threes, and the offense seemed to fall apart for the Cats. The quarter ended with an inbound play executed as Chicone floated a lob up for Sean Collins.
The fourth began out of reach for the Wildcats and in need of a miracle. Yontek kicked off the quarter with two free throws. The Cardinals had the 52-28 lead and spent the quarter playing like a sink as they drained the clock. With minutes left in the game, there was little scoring all from the free-throw line. The game came to a close with no excitement in the third quarter and a final score of 58-33.
The tough weekend for the Wildcats is no testament to their season. Their regular-season record concluded at 14-6 with a solid winning streak proving this team can make a run into the playoffs. Coach Joyce and the Cats will play the winner of Parma and Twinsburg this Saturday, February 27th. Be sure to tune in on the SIBN as the blue and gold hunt for a ring in Columbus.