Playoff basketball has started once again in Cleveland, Ohio. With Cleveland.com predicting for the Wildcats to head to the Final Four, a lot is riding on Coach Joyce's boys. After bringing home the number two seed, Saint Ignatius caught a first-round bye. A week-day matchup between Parma and Twinsburg gave the Wildcats an idea of their first battle. Each game from here on out would be more important than the last, but with the Wildcats' high seed, they had the advantage of playing at home.
"A Lot of confidence as a team because we know the rims, we know the court, it's a familiar place to play," says Joyce. Their success at home played a huge factor in their nine-game winning streak, which featured a win against St. Edward after a tough loss in The Eagles' Nest.
Entering game one of the postseason on short notice, we knew for a fact to watch out for Parma's Allan Eason. Throughout the season, Eason has hit 70 three-pointers while averaging 21 points per game. In addition to his versatile scoring, the Wildcats had their hands full with sophomore guard Darius Davis. Davis averaged 15 points per game this year and required all of our guard's attention.
A heavy scoring backcourt fueled the Redmen this season, but the Wildcats have scooped up most of their recent success in the paint. With Jon Effertz out in this game, Henry Raynor and Will Yontek had an even more significant role than usual against the size lacking Parma squad.
The first quarter was scoreless for the first two minutes of the game. Raynor had enough and went on the attack down the left lane and had a nice finish inside. Eason got his first points on the next possession with two free throws. Raynor yanked the momentum back for his team with a smooth reverse finish. Coach Cam's press defense played a factor early on as the Redmen fell to another turnover. Braydn Szczepaniak took the reins immediately after the steal with a nice floater. George Burton responded with a corner triple and cut the lead to one. A lot of fouls early on proved for a physical game. The freshman Carter Jackson embraced contact as he floated two shots up for four quick points. A 10-6 lead pushed the Wildcats ahead as the first quarter ticked down. One more bucket for Parma closed the quarter with a slim one-basket lead for the Wildcats.
"This is the playoffs; we're not underestimating anyone; we're taking it one game at a time," says Joyce as they headed into the second quarter. Alex Garcia started the quarter with a massive block and a transition layup forcing a Redmen timeout. Burton was right back at it as he knocked down his second triple of the game to cut the lead to two. Fouls kept adding up in Sullivan Gym as Eason traveled back to the foul line going 2 of 3 on two one and one attempts. Will Yontek went way into his bag of tricks and connected with a classy left-handed hook. A 21-17 game was too close for comfort, and Eason was yet to get hot, shooting 0 for 4 from deep. Yontek and Shondo Green Jr. each scored to give their team an impactful eight-point lead. Eason headed back to what had been his home all night with two more free throws. After two gone, the Wildcats led the Redmen 25-19 with a lot of work left.
Raynor started the half off with three points in two possessions. Burton one-upped him as he tacked on his third three-ball of the night. Parma's defense picked apart the Wildcat bigs all game long. This time, a steal on Yontek opened up the floor for a beautiful stepback three from Davis. It didn't end there as Eason threw up a bomb and knocked it down to tie the game for the first time since the opening quarter. A few points for Raynor and Yontek took back the momentum leading 33-28 with two minutes left in the third quarter. A.J. Fletcher aced two free throws to add on to the Wildcat lead. Davis stepped back on a fadeaway with seconds left and knocked down a 35ft buzzer-beater to cut the Wildcats' lead 35-31.
Carter Jackson did the honors with a three to start the fourth. Eason continued to struggle with two missed threes in one possession. With a nice lead, Coach Joyce began to drain the clock. The quarter stayed all-freshman as Jackson put up four straight points. C.J. Little played a significant role in this game with Effertz's absence. Raynor took back some confidence with a mean drive to the bucket giving the Wildcats a 44-31 lead. Still yet to score in the quarter, the Redmen were way out of reach. Jackson hit another three-ball, and Davis matched it for Parma. Nick Lamirand put the lid on the game with the final points in a 51-36 fourth-quarter blowout.
The Wildcats will play this Wednesday against Amherst-Steele in the District Semifinal. Be sure to tune in on the SIBN for more playoff basketball!