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Basketball Cats Enjoy a West Coast Trip

By Danny Gibel '22 & Matt Kelly '22, 01/05/22, 12:45PM EST


The Blue and Gold go 3-1 in the Xavier Winter Showcase in Palm Springs, California.

PALM DESERT, CA - The Saint Ignatius Wildcats were dormant for over two weeks due to postponements and cancellations when they finally took the floor on Monday night. The day after the Basketball Cats made the cross-country trip to Palm Springs to participate in the Xavier Winter Showcase. The Cats entered the showcase with a 2-2 record and were looking to build momentum as they approached the turn of the calendar year. The opponent for the first game was the Junipero Serra Cavaliers, coming from Gardena, CA, located 14 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.  

After spending nearly two full days in the Golden State, it was finally time for some game action. One change from the OHSAA is that a 35-second shot clock is implemented in California High School basketball. The tip-off was at 8:30 PM PST, but the late start time did not affect the Cats as they got out to a monstrous start.  

Saint Ignatius vs. Junipero Serra (CA)

The Wildcats won the opening tip-off and quickly got their first points on the board. As he cut down the lane, C.J. Little took a pass from C.J. Yarian; Little promptly laid the ball in for a quick bucket.  

The Cavaliers tied the game at two with an inside basket of their own by Duke Gipson, who stands at 6'10", a dominant force in the paint for Serra.

Serra did not even have time to get their defense set on the next possession before Braydyn Szczepaniak drilled a corner three to put the Cats up 5-2.  

Then with 5:20 left in the first quarter, Gipson got his second lay-up of the game. This time it came after grabbing an offensive rebound off a missed shot by Khamani Nelson.  

Jonathan Effertz got his first points of the night off a fast-break pass from Carter Jackson. Effertz was fouled on the shot but could not sink the free throw to make it a three-point play. The senior guard scored on back-to-back possessions for the Cats, as he buried a corner triple to put Saint Ignatius up 10-4.

After the three-ball by Effertz, Ace Buckner checked into the game, officially making his Saint Ignatius debut. Buckner quickly showed Wildcat fans what he could do, as he nailed a catch-and-shoot three from the corner just seconds after entering the game.  

"I always want to hoop," says Buckner. "Being out for a while hurt, we lost a couple of games, but it's great to be back ."

The three-pointers continued to rain in for the Wildcats. This time, Shondo Green cashed in from the top of the arch. Green's three-ball gave the Cats an 18-4 lead.

Serra was only able to manage seven points throughout the first quarter. The Wildcats' defense was seemingly impenetrable early in the game.  

Charlie Hyland closed out the first quarter in dramatic fashion for the Cats. Hyland inbounded the ball to Buckner with five seconds remaining on the clock. Then, Buckner passed the ball back to Hyland, who got a three-pointer off ahead of the buzzer and made it to put the Wildcats up 23-7.

The start of the second quarter was a scoring drought for both teams. Either team made no baskets until close to midway through the quarter. The drought ended on a put-back by Jackson off a missed lay-up by Little.  

Jackson once again scored a couple of possessions later. His basket came off a beautiful no-look pass by A.J. Fletcher, who hit Jackson in stride as he streaked toward the hoop. The Wildcats were now comfortably in the driver's seat with a 27-7 lead.

"I wanted to make those hustle plays, getting put-backs for our team," explains Jackson. "Along with taking chargers."

The following four points for the Cats all came from inside the paint. Effertz banked in a floater as he drove down the lane. Then, Jackson gave Sam Springer a great pass from halfcourt just as Springer was nearing the basket. Springer's first points gave the Wildcats a 31-7 lead.

The following two possessions also produced some inside shots for the Cats. First, an acrobatic finish by Little and then a lay-up by Springer off a pass where Little threaded the needle. The two baskets made by the sophomore put the Wildcats up 35-9.

The Cavaliers were able to get a free throw and lay-up late in the second quarter to bring the score to 35-12 at the half.

The second half opened with a Yarian three-pointer from the top of the arch. The Wildcats have begun to use that shot by the 6'10" senior as a way to catch opposing defenses off guard, usually early in the first or second half.      

Jeremy Dent-Smith of Serra answered Yarian's triple with a three-ball of his own from well beyond the three-point line. Dent-Smith came out of the half aggressively, especially from beyond the arch.

There was no shortage of three-pointers in the third quarter as Effertz drilled a deep three off an assist from Little to put the Wildcats up 41-18.  

In the final minute of the third quarter, Hyland drove to the basket, made the lay-up, and drew a foul. The senior guard then sank the free-throw for a three-point play to give the Cats a 51-30 lead.

The Wildcats got a little bit of a boost from Effertz, who nailed a three-point shot from the corner. Effertz finished the game shooting 3-of-6 from beyond the arch.

Later in the fourth quarter, Serra was inching closer to the Wildcats on the scoreboard. Then with 2:20 on the clock, Jackson refused to give up the momentum with a step-back three in transition to give the Cats a 61-42 advantage.

Over the final two minutes, Serra refused to go down without a fight, but the Wildcats' lead was too great and Saint Ignatius won their first game in the Xavier Winter Showcase 63-50.

Little went for six points, two rebounds and four assists in the win. Buckner, in his Saint Ignatius debut, had six points, two rebounds, and four assists. Jackson was the second leading scorer on the team with 11 points, seven rebounds, and two assists. Hyland added six points with three boards. Effertz led the Wildcats with 19 points, shooting 73% from the field. Yarian had a team-high in rebounds and assists, with nine and four, respectively.  

The Wildcats comfortably handled the Cavaliers after having not played a game since December 10. Head Basketball Coach Cam Joyce got contributions from all over the roster as all 16 players logged minutes in the win. The Wildcats improved to 3-2 on the season and Cavaliers went to 10-4. The Basketball Cats then set their sights on their next opponent Bishop Moreau (CA).

SIBN Players of the Game vs. Serra (CA): Carter Jackson and Ace Buckner

Saint Ignatius vs. Moreau Catholic (CA)

The Wildcats had to face a quick turnaround for the next game, as they would for each game in the Xavier Winter Showcase. The Moreau Catholic Mariners came into the matchup with a record of 6-2 and were coming off a 75-54 loss to Liberty in their first game of the showcase. Meanwhile, the Wildcats were fresh off a win against Junipero Serra and looking to make it three in a row in the win column as they would premier their new gold uniforms.

The Basketball Cats started slowly in the first quarter. The Mariners won the opening tip and then after a couple of passes, LeBrie Goudy-Lee hit a three-pointer and was fouled while shooting. Goudy-Lee went to the line and sank the free throw to convert on the four-point play.  

Szczepaniak was first to get the Cats on the board with a put-back off a missed lay-up by Yarian. The junior had excellent positioning and had no problem laying the ball in for two.  

The Mariners continued their hot start with a deep three-ball hit by Matthew Villanueva. The 6'0" Villanueva quickly became a problem for the Cats with his great outside shot.

Effertz responded with a quick basket of his own, driving against Villanueva and laying it with his right hand.

The Wildcats struggled to get physical when rebounding and surrendered a couple more inside shots. Villanueva continued to hurt the Cats, this time from in the paint. He made a lay-up while dealing with contact by Green. Villanueva converted on the ensuing free throw and put his Mariners up 19-8 lead late in the first quarter.

Hyland quickly answered by giving his team a massive boost as he rattled in a three-pointer to cut the lead to eight.

The Wildcats picked up four more points on a Buckner floater from inside the paint. Then, a technical foul called on Robert Morgan II put Hyland at the free-throw line. The senior sank them both to bring his team within seven points. To cut the deficit to four points, Hyland then buried another three ball, having scored eight of the last ten for the Cats.  

The first quarter ended with the Wildcats trailing 19-23 after a near buzzer-beater by Hyland but was immediately waved off by the referees.  

The second quarter began with a tipped pass by Matt Ellis that fell into the hands of Buckner, who took it the length of the court and scored with Villanueva right behind him.

A couple of possessions into the second quarter, Fletcher checked into the game and promptly drilled a three from up top. The senior's three brought the Cats within two points of the lead.

Then on the very next trip down the court, Buckner found a wide-open Ellis who buried the corner three. Ellis is a long-range weapon off the bench for the Cats, who can provide instant offense by way of his three-point shot.  

The Mariners quickly took the lead back with a three-pointer by Kellen Hampton. As only a freshman for Moreau, Hampton stands at 6'6" and looks to have a promising future in high school basketball.

Fletcher continued to capitalize on his shots from beyond the arch with another three-pointer to tie the game at 30.

The Wildcats took the lead back thanks to Effertz showing off some great moves down in the paint. Effertz maneuvered his way through defenders and got a lay-up to fall to put the Cats up 32-30.

Late in the first half, Effertz went to work down low once again, shrugging off contact and drawing the foul. The lay-up and the free throw were good for a three-point play.

After a much stronger second quarter of play, the first half ended with the Wildcats possessing a 38-32 lead.  

The second half got underway with a deep three by Jackson from the corner. Jackson stared down his defender and then hit the three to put his team up 41-32.  

After an atypical night of outside shooting for Effertz, he buried a mid-range jumper from the baseline to try and get his jump shot rolling again. The Wildcats then went out to a 44-37 lead.

"Coming into the game, we didn't know much about Moreau Catholic," says Effertz. "We played inside-out to get into the paint and draw fouls to open up the three-point shot."

After scoring consistently from the paint on several possessions in the third quarter, the Mariners began to close the gap as they found themselves only down five.

Yarian then drilled a high-arching three to give the Cats a 51-43 lead.   On the next possession, Yarian buried another three to make it an 11 point game. The 6'10" center for the Wildcats has such a high release on his jump shot it makes it very difficult for opposing teams to defend.

"Being able to space the floor helps the guards to get to the rim and I'm not clogging the lane," Yarian explains. "We are able to space the floor well and can attack the bucket."

With the time ticking away at the end of the third quarter, Little snuck down the lane and laid the ball with just seconds to spare. So, the Wildcats held a 56-45 advantage over Moreau at the end of three quarters.  

Jesse Ybarra opened the fourth quarter with a deep three for the Mariners. Ybarra's three closed the gap to eight points and set his team up for an attempt at a fourth-quarter comeback. Then, on the next possession, Hampton made a mid-range jumper to cut the lead to six. Following a miss at the other end by Buckner, Hampton got inside for a right-handed lay-up.

The offense for the Wildcats struggled to get going in the fourth quarter, but the offense for the Mariners was quite the opposite. A floater by Goudy-Lee began to put pressure on the Cats as their lead was down to two points.

With the Mariners breathing down the Wildcats' necks, Effertz buried a clutch three right over the outstretched hand of Goudy-Lee. Effertz's first three-pointer of the game gave the Cats a five-point advantage. Another three-ball by Effertz just a couple of possessions later continued to build the Cats' lead back up as they now led 62-54.  

The Mariners refused to go away as Ybarra hit another deep three and was left wide open in the corner. Moreau still trailed by seven but lacked the aggressiveness needed to mount a comeback.  

Jackson found himself wide open on a breakaway down the floor with just over two minutes remaining in the game. He got a pass from Little and then lifted high off the hardwood for a one-handed slam.  

When the fourth quarter came to an end, 73-66 was the final score in a game where the Wildcats and the Mariners battled back and forth the entire game, but Saint Ignatius managed to pull away in the end.

Little ended his night with 10 points and five assists. Jackson had 12 points and six rebounds. Hyland and Fletcher added eight and six points, respectively. Effertz led the team with 22 points, shooting a perfect 7-of-7 from inside the arch. Yarian had six points, a team-high 10 rebounds, and two blocks.  

With the win in the second game of the showcase, the Wildcats improved to 4-2 on the season. While the Mariners, having lost in their first two showcase games, went to 6-3.  

Effertz continued his dominance while in California with a 22 point effort. The senior contributed 41 points through two games. While getting two wins in the first two was great for the Cats, a more daunting task awaited them in game three. Saint Ignatius would be forced to match up with the #20 ranked team in the country, the Liberty Patriots (NV). 

SIBN Players of the Game vs. Moreau Catholic (CA): Jonathan Effertz and CJ Yarian

Saint Ignatius vs. Liberty (NV)

The Wildcats entered 4-2 on the season and 2-0 in the showcase, while Liberty came into the game 7-1 and 1-1 in the showcase, with a loss coming the night before against Junipero Serra. The Wildcats had beaten Junipero Serra on the first night of the showcase, so the confidence level was high coming in.

Justin Jefferson, a very tall and extremely athletic power forward for the Patriots, was ranked the #2 player from Nevada coming into Wednesday night's game. The Wildcats started both Shondo Green Jr. and CJ Yarian to manage Jefferson using size down low.

Liberty won the tip-off and scored immediately. The Wildcats were held scoreless for their first five possessions while Liberty jumped out to a 6-0 lead. Green scored first for the Wildcats, but Liberty matched with a 3-pointer to make it 9-2. The Wildcats gave Jefferson lots of trouble early on, stripping the ball many times, but offensively, the Wildcats just could not hit their shots.

Two free throws for Liberty, followed by a turnover and missed shot for the Wildcats, made the score 11-2, but Ace Buckner closed the gap to seven with a steal and lay-up. Liberty followed with a three-pointer, but then Hyland was found down low by an assist from Effertz to make it 14-6. Then came another three-pointer for the Patriots, and with a rushed last possession, the quarter ended 17-6 for Liberty. The Wildcats had scored their lowest points in the first quarter of the season.

The Wildcats started the second quarter with two consecutive turnovers as Liberty converted 2 of 3 free throws to go up 19-6. Szczepaniak was then fouled and made one of two from the line and Jefferson responded with a strong offensive rebound and put-back to make the score 21-7 Patriots. Jefferson found an open lane for a dunk. Liberty converted again on the fast break, 25-7, and Jefferson continued the scoring with an emphatic alley-oop finish to put Liberty ahead by 20, 27-7.

The Wildcats came out of a timeout with a great display of ball movement and Yarian finished at the hoop. Liberty responded with a three-ball and two possessions later; Jackson hit the first three of the game for the Wildcats, now trailing 30-12. Two free throws followed for Thomas from Liberty and Jackson went to the line for three free throws of his own, converting on the first two, then getting his rebound and hitting a step-back three for a five point play, the lead now at 34-17 for Liberty.

Liberty followed with a 12-2 run, only interrupted by a Jackson lay-up. Owen Maruca checked in for the first time and hit a three. The other half of the Wildcat junior duo, Tristan Marshall, finished on a floater, but Jefferson navigated the lane and hit a lay-up at the buzzer to end the second quarter. The cats were down 48-24 at the half, their largest deficit of the season.

Liberty scored first with a three to spark the third quarter on a 9-0 run. Liberty's incredibly high percentage from three made this lead continue to stretch, now at 57-24. The Cats first scored three minutes in with 2-2 from the line from Carter Jackson. Sean Martin checked in and finished through a forest down low for a bucket. Yarian used his post-move arsenal to score next for the Wildcats and Liberty missed one of two free throws to set the score at 60-31.

A long series of defensive stops for each team ensued, with AJ Fletcher breaking the drought going 1-of-2 from the line. The Wildcats suffered their first shot clock violation during the teams' five-minute field goal drought. Liberty and Shondo Green each hit threes at the end of the third quarter. Going into the fourth quarter, the lead had stretched up to 28 at 63-35.

For the fourth consecutive quarter, the Patriots scored first, but Yarian hit next, 65-37. Matt Ellis then had a steal and quick fast break. Szczepaniak had a steal, but the Wildcats could not convert. Jefferson then had his third dunk, immediately matched by a Szczepaniak jumper.

The game came to a close as the Wildcats fell to Liberty, 77-51.

The Wildcats took their third loss and first of the showcase in their most significant loss in over five years, falling by 26 points. On the bright side, the Wildcats had 13 of 16 players score, with the only players not adding to the total being, very surprisingly, Effertz, Little and Hyland. Jackson led the way with 14, and Yarian had 6. Green, Szczepaniak and Timmy Ruddy all had five. The Wildcats shot 38.8% from the field, 31.3% from three and 66.7% from the free-throw line.

Saint Ignatius vs. Bishop Monogue (NV)

The Wildcats regrouped and prepared for their final Palm Springs game the following day against Bishop Monogue (NV).

The Wildcats sought to end their trip to Palm Springs positively. After five days of team bonding over hikes in the California hills, playing 2k and Madden, sharing meals, playing cards, throwing a football, swimming and playing lots of basketball, the Cats had one final game against Bishop Monogue from Nevada.

After a slow start for both teams, the duo Effertz and Yarian hit three-pointers on the Cats' third and fourth possessions to go up 6-0. But wait, there's more! Yarian then hit another three to put the Cats up 9-0. Yarian yet again put up points for the Wildcats, muscling his way to the hoop for his seventh and eighth points, 11-0. Bishop Monogue finally broke the drought after being held scoreless through six minutes to set the score, with a lay-up and two free throws on their next possession to cut the lead to 11-4.

Jackson then found Effertz on the break for two, and Bishop Monague held for the last shot but failed to get a good shot up, ending the quarter 13-4. It was a defensive showcase at the Xavier College Prep Showcase, with the Cats allowing almost no penetration inside the perimeter through the entire first quarter.

The Wildcats continued to dominate defensively in the second quarter, stopping Bishop Monague on 11 of 15 of Monague's offensive possessions. Jackson hit one free throw followed by a Maruca put back on the second for two. Marshall had an offensive rebound and scored. Fletcher had a no-look assist to Marshall to put the Cats up 20-5. Fletcher then had two threes in a row, both from the top of the key, followed by two free throws, to put together an eight-point individual run for the Cats to put them up 29-10. Little scored to end the half 31-10 for the Wildcats. The Wildcats seemed to leave Palm Springs 5-3 and 3-1 in the showcase.

"My role this year is a little different, I started last season, but I know where I fit with this team," says Fletcher. "I want to help this team wherever I can."

The Wildcats started the third with the ball and Jackson struck with an offensive rebound off an Effertz miss and put-back. Little and Effertz then trapped the attacking player on Monogue's first possession, and Little drove powerfully on the break, being fouled, but missed two free throws.

Yarian blocked a shot from the free-throw line on Monague's next possession and Szczepaniak, in transition, lobbed the ball off the backboard to Yarian for what could have been an SC Top-10 slam and Anthony McFarlin '23 photo of the year had Yarian's slam not-to-be as he had just a bit too much power and bounce out off the back of the rim. The Cats retook possession and Yarian was called for a charge, a clever play from the mismatched Monogue defender.

Ellis made the score 43-19 on the Cats' first possession in the fourth. Marshall added one point going 1-of-2 from the line and two possessions later; Fletcher had an offensive rebound and lay-up, 46-19 Wildcats. Monogue followed with a made shot and a foul on the floor after the shot to get two points and possession but could not score again and Ellis put the two points back to the Cats' lead with a right-handed scooping lay-up. Monogue hit a pull-up jumper to close it to 48-23, but Martin hit a smooth crossover mid-range, 50-23. Two possessions later, Davis had a textbook pickpocket and was fouled at the other end but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Martin finished over two Monogue defenders to give the Wildcats the lead 52-22. Monogue followed with a two, but the Cats answered with a three from Sam Springer. Monogue ended the game 57-29.

After the game, Effertz and Jackson were announced as the Cats' two additions to the Showcase All-Star Team. Through four games, Effertz averaged a team-high 12 points, 3.3 rebounds, and two assists, with highlight games in the first two for the Cats, going 19-3-1 and 22-3-2 to lead the Cats to victories. Jackson averaged 9.8 points, five rebounds, and one assist.

Other stat leaders for the Wildcats included Little, who had a team-high 3.3 assists per game in the Showcase and Yarian, averaging 6.5 rebounds per game.

Through the four games, the Cats shot a collective 95-250 from the field, 34-89 from 3, and 23-43 from the free-throw line for team averages of 38.0%, 38.2%, and 53.5%. The Cats scored an average of 61 points per game and gave up 55.5.

The Cats averaged 2.5 blocks, 8.8 steals, and 12.5 fouls per game as a team.

On the bright side, the Wildcats averaged only 10.8 turnovers per game, improving each game, turning the ball over 13, then 11, then 10, then nine times.

The Wildcats come away from Palm Springs with lots to look forward to and an equal amount that they can improve upon as they head back to Ohio City. Their next game will be against Cleveland Heights on January 8th at 7:30 p.m. as they will compete in the JR Bremer Classic, the SIBN will have live coverage.

SIBN Player of the Game vs. Bishop Monogue (NV): AJ Fletcher