The Basketball Cats have been nothing short of spectacular this season. All year long, through the ups and downs, they have been underestimated. As the post-season neared and Saint Ignatius' record stayed consistent, people started to realize how good the blue and gold were. All that was left to do was prove it. Cleveland.com had the Wildcats projected to go to the state championship, and with the Regional Final game ahead, there were only a few steps left until the top of the ladder.
After the nail-biting victory versus St. Edward, the Cats' road to Dayton kept getting more challenging. In the Regional Championship game, the next roadblock was the Lima Spartans. The Spartans had the advantage of extra rest after their semifinal game against St. John's Jesuit. Unfortunately, they had the disadvantage of not playing on the rims of Norwalk High School.
On the other hand, Henry Raynor knew the rims very well as he picked up right where he left off with a post-spin bucket. As the defensive play continued to succeed, the game stayed quiet. Raynor tacked on one free throw, but Camren Miles matched that free throw with one of his own for Lima's first points of the game. The game drove forward, but the Cats held onto a 5-3 lead after Coach Quincy Simpson's timeout midway through the quarter. Right out of the timeout, Raynor picked up his fourth point of the game to take Coach Joyce and the Wildcats up to a four-point lead.
Lima's speedy guard play was nowhere near fast enough to stop C.J. Little, who used his NASCAR-like speed to score on a coast-to-coast finish. Back-to-back traveling violations for Lima played right into the Wildcats' game plan. With every player on Lima's roster being undersized, Raynor scored on a beautiful hook shot and picked up his third block in the first quarter alone. In the final seconds, the run continued for Saint Ignatius as Little finessed his way in for another layup. In need of some scoring, the Spartans nailed a buzzer-beater to close the quarter with a 13-6 lead for Saint Ignatius.
The second quarter was Jon Effertz Central. He started the first few minutes with a deep three and, in the very next possession, did the very same thing. The quick 6-0 run was detrimental to Lima's confidence as Saint Ignatius grew closer to Dayton. The 19-6 lead changed as Miles connected on two free throws, which would be a very familiar sight all night long. Coach Cam's defense stayed all over the inexperienced Spartan squad as Raynor picked up his fourth block in the contest.
Hunting for more, the future Hillsdale Charger did a little shuffle inside for an easy layup. The 5'6 guard attempted two threes for Lima and hit one of them. Luster had a hard time trying to get the ball in the bucket all game long. Looking to stay up by double digits, Effertz did it again with his own personal 4-0 run to lead 25-11. Lima's sloppy possessions gave way too many chances to Saint Ignatius, and Raynor closed the quarter with two free throws to complete the first half of the Regional Title game with the Cats up 27-12.
Hunting for some more net to cut, the Wildcats had a tremendous quarter ahead of them. Lima's 6-0 run was a scare early on in the quarter, causing two timeouts in under a minute. One bucket for the Cats wasn't enough to shift the momentum. A three-point play played right into Miles' favor to cut the lead to 29-21. Rawlins drove hard on C.J. Yarian and got it to go to take their third-quarter play on an 11-2 run. As the Spartans began to drain the clock, Raynor took over two buckets inside to maintain an 11 point lead. His co-captain, Will Yontek, wanted in on the action getting a bucket of his own as well with 1:40 left in the quarter. The quarter's final seconds once again played into the visiting team's favor with a contested layup.
Being one quarter away from the program's first Regional Championship in 20 years and Lima's good third-quarter play, it was far from over. The Wildcats' 37-28 lead gave a little comfort to the Cats way early on. Carter Jackson splashed in a corner jumper to extend the lead to 12. Camren Miles hit a jumper of his own on the other end. As Lima continued to score, Raynor led the way in battling back with another interior finish.
Some lazy passes left chances for Lima about halfway through the quarter, which they converted on. Although Jaeron Mayo got two free throws to go again, the Wildcat offense matched everything the Spartans accomplished. Braydn Szczepaniak hit both free throws, and Saint Ignatius was three minutes away from taking home some hardware.
Yontek proved he wanted it with another inside bucket. The 46-37 lead was extended even more after Raynor dished a beauty ball to his co-captain who laid it in with a foul called. With 2:10 left, Coach Joyce a four-possession game in just his second season coaching Saint Ignatius Basketball. Luster scored a few more for Lima as their season neared a close. With under a minute left, the bench subbed in for the Cats. Soon, enough with the toss of a ball high in the air, the gym erupted for the Wildcats' victory.
As every player, coach, and manager cut their second piece of the net this year; the Saint Ignatius community planned a trip to Dayton. The boys from Ohio City will play the State Semifinal game on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. against Westerville Central. Hence a win, the team will play the winner of Centerville and Mentor. Be sure to support your Cats any way you can.