After two regular-season meetings, splitting the pair, OHSAA continues to fuel the rivalry with a third meeting in the Regional Semifinal game. The exciting matchup ahead went to a neutral zone location. With St. Edward’s winning at home and losing on the road in Sullivan Gymnasium, playing somewhere neutral was the perfect opportunity to prove greatness.
Coming into the game, Michael Bova has been red hot all playoffs long. Both the Eagles and the Wildcats had their first-round bye week, but after a canceled District Semifinal game for Saint Ignatius, Ed’s had more playoff experience this season. Bova has been averaging an astounding 28 points per game during these playoffs, and his partner in crime, Shane Macalla averaging 10 points per game. The Eagles’ speed has been a problem for their opponents all year long, but the Cats’ size has proved to be able to shut down Coach Flannery’s boys. Henry Raynor and Jon Effertz are both coming off a miraculous performance combining for 36 points. With Effertz ready to go and Henry hungry for a ring in his senior year, the matchup was amplified dramatically.
Each team knows one another like the back of their hand. Coach Flannery’s experience against Coach Joyce’s knowledge and youth set up for more than just a player’s battle. In the rivals’ first meeting, Bova and Macalla combined for 51 points, playing the most extensive role in their victory. Making adjustments wasn’t hard for Joyce as he limited the duo to under 20 combined points and allowed Raynor to finish with nine points, 15 rebounds, and six blocks. Stepping into Norwalk High School’s Gym was an experience in itself. The presence of student sections set the tone for a wild night.
The game began with a tug of war. Danny Lavelle and Will Yontek put in the first two points for each team. A few fruitless possessions ended with a wide-open shot for Macalla, who hit from deep. Effertz tacked on a mid-range jumper to cut the lead to one. As the tempo increased, Raynor swatted Bova away, and the crowd roared. The junior sharpshooter worked down the floor and played into the momentum, swishing a falling away trifecta to take the lead 7-5. Bova took his chances with a field goal range three and hit it to take the advantage.
After locking down Macalla all game long, Szczepaniak caught a lob from C.J. Little. He then dumped off another beautiful assist to Raynor, and Effertz’s defense opened up a lane as he skipped in for a pretty layup to close the scoring in the quarter for the Cats. The Eagles still had another chance as they converted in the final 15 seconds to cut Saint Ignatius’s lead 14-12.
Multiple defensive stops for Coach Joyce’s boys not only forced an Eagles’ timeout but gave up two fast-break layups from Carter Jackson and Raynor. Bova’s free throws were the first points of the quarter for Ed’s. The massive 21-14 lead for the Wildcats allowed for some room to breathe. Looking for his third assist of the game, the Freshman Phenom tossed a lob up to Raynor, who slammed it hard to take a double-digit lead. Jackson added on to the mix. Saint Ignatius outscored Bova’s team 13-5 in the quarter with just minutes left in the quarter. In dire need to shift the momentum, Bova hit his second triple of the game, making it a 29-22 game. With the Eagles in foul trouble and the Wildcats playing physical, a plentiful amount of free throws at the end of the half set up for an intense second half with the Wildcats leading 31-23.
The first points of the half came from a Michael Bova free throw. Taking a 3-0 run was Bova again beating two Wildcat defenders and finishing on the right side. Even after multiple scoring chances, St. Edward couldn’t catch up after Will Yontek’s own 4-0 run. Early on for the Wildcats, they struggled to limit their fouls, but Zoltan Nagy committed back-to-back fouls to even out the game’s physicality. Fouls continued for Coach Joyce’s boys with seven total in the quarter.
Raynor headed to the line to make it a 39-30 game. Hunting to make a run, Macalla fired back to back corner threes with a Wildcat bucket in between. Just back-to-back became a five-point game. Once again, Jackson soared over the Eagles’ big man and finished through the contact. With one minute left, Little got fouled, making one of two. Nagy scored on the other end to keep it a five-point game. The Wildcats have yet to give up their lead since 12-10 in the first quarter. Danny Lavelle wrapped up the quarter with his fifth point of the game to cut the lead to just a one-possession game at 44-42.
With plenty of fouls for each team, a long, intense quarter was in the near future. Both junior leaders, Bova and Effertz, started the fourth quarter with one free throw apiece. An absurdly late foul call sent Bova to the line with the opportunity to tie the game. Hitting both, the rivals were tied at 45. With ice in veins, Little dropped both of his free throws on the following possession. Tied at 47, Shane Macalla cut backdoor and gave his team their first lead of the night since the first quarter. Then, in the blink of an eye, the Freshman Phenom drove with blazing speed and finished with finesse on an and-one to take the 50-49 lead.
A tipped pass was stolen, sending Bova out in the open who drove on Raynor. The future Hillsdale Charger stood straight up like the Statue of Liberty with no foul called. After grabbing the board, Raynor went to the line for another two chances. Henry’s 50% trip kept it a one-possession game. None other than Bova attacked the left side and finished to tie the game at 51. Raynor went back to the line and hit both.
Another backdoor cut worked for Macalla, who got it to go. A lazy pass led to a turnover, and Lavelle bolted in transition. Szczepaniak fouled him, and Lavelle only hit one of his two attempts. Taking a timeout on a long possession, Coach Joyce had the chance to set up for a play. An excellent setup by Little freed up Raynor for his 16th point of the game to clutch up the lead at 55-54.
Bova sprinted down the left side with the crowd screaming with more than enough time to win the game. Coach Flannery ignored his two remaining timeouts as Bova faded away with a miss. The offensive rebound fell in the hands of Jaire Knight, who has been quiet all game long. At the buzzer, Knight’s shot fell just left from under the basket, and the Wildcats erupted in celebration.
The entire team huddled at center court in a full sprint after knocking out their rival from this year’s tournament. An absolute brawl continues to drive the Wildcats’ momentum with another chance to cut the nets. At 2 p.m., Saint Ignatius will battle Lima Senior High in the Regional Final game to decide who is headed to Dayton for the Final Four.