This year’s playoffs have been much different from past years. COVID-19 has thrown off everything from student sections to team bus rides. After the win over Parma, the boys were set to take on Amherst-Steele in the District Semifinal game, but after a positive test for COVID-19 at Amherst, the blue and gold got a forfeit victory. With that in mind, Coach Joyce scouted out their soon-to-be next opponent.
The Lorain Titans have had a successful season 8-5 season with some ups and downs throughout the journey. For the playoffs, it has been all uphill for Coach Rositano’s team. They started the post-season with a massive 70-35 victory over Midview and then took on their rival, Garfield Heights. Being the #10 seed and Garfield being the #5, the Titans had a lot to prove, and they did. A close 64-58 win solidified their team’s depth and talent as they headed to the District Championship.
The talent this team has was something everyone knew. Lorain’s Seth Wilson is ranked number three in all of Ohio with a commitment to West Virginia. Since sixth grade, he has been nationally recognized and has carried just about everything to the next level over the years. This season he has had multiple 20+ point games with some performances in the 30s. In addition to Wilson, their guard play is nearly unstoppable. Seniors Jamir Billings and De’Vante Jackson each provide scoring bursts when Seth is double-teamed and have been dangerous for every team this season.
The Cats were hungry and ready to take home some hardware for the first time since 2016. With Jon Effertz and C.J. Yarian out in the previous game and both of them back, their firepower was amplified even more. The first quarter started very, very quiet. Henry Raynor hit a triple on the Wildcat’s second possession. The 3-0 lead remained the same up until 4 minutes were on the clock. Braydn Szczepaniak’s layup answered a quick bucket from Jae Von Manning. Effertz then pulled up for the team’s second triple of the game. Tacking on more, #22 picked off the Titans on the press defense and laid one up with ease. With two minutes left in the quarter, Saint Ignatius led 10-2. Lorain did their best to score on their last possession, but Coach Joyce’s defensive plan locked up Wilson for the whole quarter, and it showed.
De’Vante Jackson kicked off the scoring in the second quarter with a contested mid-range jumper. Effertz did the same to even out Lorain’s run. The tug of war continued as Wilson got his name on the scoreboard. He didn’t stop there as he fired up a swish from deep. The game was becoming too close even though the Cats led 13-9. The trifectas kept falling for the Titans after Billings cut the lead to one. As the quarter went on, Carter Jackson and Braydn Szczepaniak continued to allow nothing but Wilson’s misses. Raynor worked inside and connected on a spinning layup to take the Wildcats on a 7-0 run with about a minute left. Aden Smith scored inside for the Titans and left too much time on the clock for Joyce. A beautiful play call freed up Effertz, who hit a last-second shot to close the half with a 23-14 lead.
After a strong first half, the boys held to their purpose. With Mike Mattimore in the hospital with an illness, Saint Ignatius played for much more than a District Championship.
Billings scored right away for the Titans as he set himself up for a significant half. Effertz responded with another deep ball. With a 27-18 lead, Effertz attacked and missed, but charging in for the rebound was Henry Raynor, who leaped up and slammed the putback dunk down. Seth Wilson was determined to swing the momentum back in their favor, with the crowd roaring for Ignatius. The future Mountaineer was able to hit a three and silence Sullivan Gymnasium. A slim 8 point lead was extended with two nice free throws from C.J. Yarian. Billings scored on a runner over Effertz to give him nine on the night. Looking to take back the double-digit lead, Raynor moved quickly in transition, received a dime from Effertz, and created an earthquake on Lorain Avenue with a dunk. After all the Wildcats did, the game was still close after a few crafty finishes for the Titans.
Entering the fourth with a 36-30 lead, the defense would be a significant factor in a win or loss for Saint Ignatius. Jackson scored on two free throws for Lorain and cut the lead to a two-possession game. Raynor disagreed with that one as he attacked hard on the right block with a smooth finish. After multiple attempts all game, Szczepaniak finally took a successful charge. Raynor went back to work with a post-move finish. Ready to answer, Billings hit back-to-back triples cutting the lead to two.
A long possession for Lorain came up fruitless with an illegal screen. As the drought continued for a few minutes, Saint Ignatius still led by just a basket. When they needed it most, Szezepaniak lasered in a bomb right in front of his team’s bench. Effertz extended the run to five with a nice layup. As the crowd still screamed for the Cats, Billings did what he has done best all game with a silencer from three-point land. Four straight free throws for Szezpaniak and Yontek ensured a five-point lead with under a minute to go. As the free throws continued to drop for the Wildcats, the clock ticked down.
With the sound of a buzzer, Saint Ignatius became District Champs once again with a 56-52 win in Sullivan Gymnasium. The boys went on to raise the trophy and cut the nets in honor of Mike Mattimore with the hopes of getting well soon.
“We won a District Championship for you, Mike Mattimore,” says assistant coach Lyndon Brooks as he took to a headset on the SIBN broadcast. “We love you, and we’re bringing you some net tonight!”
Coach Joyce will take on Coach Flannery for the third time this season in the Regional Semifinal. Ed’s will take on Saint Ignatius at 6:00 p.m. at Norwalk High School.