CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Oh - The Saint Ignatius Wildcats took the hardwood for the first time since their four-game stint in Palm Springs, California. The matchup between Saint Ignatius and Cleveland Heights has become a staple in each team's schedule in recent seasons. It seems to always be a competitive game until the final buzzer sounds. This was the case on Saturday evening on Cleveland's East Side; the Tigers roared back from down 17 points early in the third quarter to push pressure on the Cats throughout the fourth quarter. Ultimately, Head Basketball Coach Cam Joyce's squad got the job done as they hung on for a 57-50 victory. This win marked the first time the Basketball Cats had won at Cleveland Heights since the 2012-2013 season.
The JR Bremer Classic began with neither team scoring over the first couple of minutes. Braydn Szczepaniak eventually got the Cats on the board first with two free throws. Szczepaniak shoots a team-high 83% from the line for the season.
Jonathan Effertz started his night off with a high-arching three-ball from the corner. The senior guard's first basket of the night gave the Cats a five-point advantage.
Throughout the entire game, the full-court press was in full use by both teams. The Wildcats were the first to put it into action, forcing a Cleveland Heights turnover on a 10-second violation.
C.J. Yarian, off a great pass by Szczepaniak, fought through some touch contact and layed the ball in to put the Cats up by seven. Last week, Yarian announced his commitment to Hillsdale College. The future Charger follows in the footsteps of his older brother Austen Yarian '17.
The Tigers finally got on the scoreboard on a second-chance bucket by Jaeden Lawson. Lawson missed his first attempt, then outrebounded the Cats down low and earned his second shot to fall on the putback.
Cleveland Heights then scored on their next possession and only trailed the Cats by two points. This time, Rayvelle Duncan, the Tigers' leading scorer on the season averaging 14 points per game, buried a deep three-pointer.
Effertz quickly got the Cats another bucket after driving nearly the entire length of the court for the fast-break layup. Effertz expertly avoided a block from behind by going up with his left hand and using the rim as protection.
Ace Buckner ended the first quarter in a big way for the Cats. The sophomore guard split two defenders and buried a mid-range shot on the baseline to give Saint Ignatius a three-point lead heading into the second quarter.
"We want to dominate, this should have been a bigger win," says Buckner. "We settled in the second and we can't do that."
The Wildcats got right to work on the opening possession. Some excellent ball movement gave Shondo Green Jr. a good look down low for a quick layup on a nice find from Buckner. The Cats got another quick basket on the next possession as A.J. Fletcher grabbed a rebound and gunned a full-court pass to Buckner, who banked it in at the other end of the floor.
The Tigers got their first points off the second three-pointer of the night for Duncan, who drilled the shot from right in front of the Wildcats' bench area. In the second quarter, Duncan's three-ball made it a 17-11 game with 6:40 left. Shortly after, Duncan made another three just a minute later to cut the Cats' lead to three.
Effertz answered with an inside shot on the next trip down the floor, showing off some solid moves in the paint in the process.
The Basketball Cats continued to build their lead back up as Owen Maruca drove down the baseline for an easy layup. Maruca pump-faked in the corner as if he was shooting a three-pointer and the nearest defender bit the fake, giving the junior an easy lane to the basket.
A couple of minutes later, Carter Jackson converted on a three-point play. Jackson was fouled on his layup attempt, made the shot and the ensuing free throw to give the Wildcats a 24-14 lead.
The Cats looked to close out the first half strong. Buckner nailed a corner triple off an assist from Little, which gave the blue and gold at 13 point advantage. Little finished the game with a team and season-high seven assists.
Jackson was a force driving to the basket in the second quarter. After his first three-point play, he got another one, just a couple of possessions later. This time it was all him. The junior drove hard to the basket and finished through contact as two Cleveland Heights defenders quickly closed in on him. After Jackson made the free throw, the Cats owned a 30-16 lead, remaining the score at halftime. Bucker led the team with nine points, with Effertz and Jackson right behind him with seven and six points, respectively.
The Tigers were the first on the board in the second half with a quick layup by Dushawn Hill caused by a missed defensive rebound by the Cats.
Yarian answered on the next possession for the Cats; the senior big man buried a turnaround jumper from just outside the paint.
On a pass by CJ Little, Jackson finished down in the paint once again. Then, later in the third, Jackson nailed a three-pointer to give the Cats a 39-22 lead. Jackson is in the midst of his best stretch of basketball in a Wildcat uniform. The second-year Varsity player has scored double-digit points in four out of his last five games.
Cleveland Heights began to come to life offensively in the later half of the third quarter and started to climb their way back into the game with an aggressive press on the inbounds plays. The Wildcats had many self-inflicted wounds in the second half and the Tigers seized the opportunity as they trailed by only eight points with a little under two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Tigers got another basket late to cut the lead down to six. As the Tigers forced a turnover and got possession of the basketball, they quickly called a timeout, at which point the entire Cleveland Heights bench came onto the floor. The referees promptly issued a technical foul to the Tigers and gave the Cats two free throws and possession of the ball.
Buckner missed both free throw attempts, but Fletcher came up big with a basket down low coming out of the timeout. Fletcher outrebounded three Tiger players and got the putback to fall, giving the Cats an eight-point lead.
The score would stay at 41-33 for the remainder of the third quarter and the stage was set for an entertaining fourth quarter.
The first minute of the quarter went great for the Wildcats. First, Yarian opened the scoring and gained a little momentum back with an incredible drive to the right side of the basket. Then, a block by Jackson at the other end halted the Tigers' possession. However, a costly turnover directly gave way to a layup by Rondelle Pollard, which made the score 43-35 in favor of Saint Ignatius.
A three-pointer by Pollard began to put pressure on the Wildcats, with their once significant lead cut down to five points at 43-38.
Yarian took some of that pressure off with another turnaround jumper. This time from the left elbow. The senior center would finish the game with eight points, all of which seemed to come at crucial moments in the game.
The next shot attempt for the Wildcats also yielded some much-needed points. An Effertz behind the back pass to Matt Ellis gave the sophomore a wide-open layup bucket in transition to give the Cats some breathing room with a 47-38 lead.
The Tigers would again cut the deficit to five with a transition basket of their own by Shemarion Hardy and free throws several possessions later, also made by Hardy.
CJ Little, who was held in check throughout most of the game, took advantage of his speed and outran two defenders on his way to the basket. Little's basket gave his squad a 49-42 lead.
Another inside basket by Cats, this time by Szczepaniak off an excellent bounce pass by Charlie Hyland, helped give the Wildcats a nine-point lead they desperately needed. Then, on the next offensive possession, Little got inside for his second game basket. Once again, using his speed while driving downhill toward the basket.
The Tigers tried to make one last comeback attempt as Hill nailed a deep three-ball, but it came just a little too late as the Cats still held onto a seven-point lead.
Buckner then finished strong through contact and got his shot to fall, which all but sealed the win for the Wildcats as they led 55-47.
Both teams would manage to get one more basket each, neither of which affected the game's outcome, as the Wildcats came away from Cleveland Heights with a 57-50 road win.
Little finished with four points(all in the fourth quarter) and seven assists. Buckner, the Showcase Game MVP, finished with 13 points.
"It feels good, there were ups and downs tonight," explains Buckner. "That comes with the game of basketball, just feels good to get the win."
Jackson had 11 points to go along with three rebounds. Szczepaniak had six points, three boards and two assists. Effertz had seven points and three assists. Yarian added his eight points and seven rebounds. The Wildcats as a team shot 58% from the field, 33% from beyond the arch, and a rough 40% from the free-throw line.
The Wildcats rarely have an easy game when facing Cleveland Heights and this matchup was no exception. The Tigers refused to go down without a fight in the second half and looked like they had a chance to complete the comeback. Ultimately, the Wildcats did enough to win the game and although it was not pretty, it counts as a win all the same.
Next up for the Basketball Cats is a road trip to Kettering Trent Arena to take on the Wheeler Wildcats (GA) as part of the Flyin' To The Hoop Showcase. This Saturday, the game will take place with tip-off set for 4:45 p.m. The Cats will then take part in the Rossford Showcase on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as they'll take on Sylvania Northview before coming home to host the St. Edward Eagles on Wednesday, January 19 at 7 p.m.