OHIO CITY, Oh - After their decisive victory against John Marshall in the First Round of the OHSAA Playoffs, the Wildcats spent the next several days getting ready for a matchup with the Firestone Falcons in the OHSAA Sectional Final.
The Falcons entered with an 8-12 record and looked to play spoiler to the Wildcats. Anything can happen in high school basketball playoffs, so it was not a done deal that the Wildcats would emerge with victory on Saturday as the Cats, on occasion, tended to play down to the level of their opponent. This was something that did not come so easy for the Blue and Gold this season.
Several reasons helped build confidence as tip-off approached inside Sullivan Gym. First, the Wildcats are now in the playoffs, and with that comes a playoff mentality that was certainly on display in the 82-28 victory over John Marshall. Second, it would be the final home game of the season for the Basketball Cats, meaning that the current seniors would never again take the floor at the Corner of W. 30th and Lorain.
Another storyline heading into the Sectional Final matchup was that the Wildcats were quietly starting to put together a nearly month-long stretch of quality basketball. Dating back to February 5th, the Wildcats were 4-2 and the only two losses coming by a combined five points to Brush and Green. Both were games in which the Cats had opportunities late to win. This needs to be improved as they get deeper into the playoffs, where games tend to go down to the wire.
What little doubt there was for a Wildcat victory was quickly removed. The Cats roared out to a 16-0 start throughout the first five minutes. They finished the quarter nearly quadrupling Firestone's score up 23-6. It was clear that they were locked in.
Speaking of locked-in, there might not have been a single player in Northeast Ohio more locked in than Jonathan Effertz on Saturday night. The senior, playing in his final game inside the hallowed walls of Sullivan Gym, gave the home crowd one last(record-breaking) performance.
Effertz's final stat line was: 27 points, 9-14 (64%) from three, to go along with four steals and three assists. All nine threes came in just three quarters.
As the senior sharpshooter began to pile on the trifectas, word soon spread over the crowd that Effertz was nearing the Saint Ignatius program record for most three-pointers in a single game. The record was eight, set by Andre Wolford '15 in 2014.
"That was the goal," says Effertz. "To try and put myself in the record books in whatever way I could. Luckily, I got it tonight."
The reaction from the Wildcat faithful grew in intensity with each passing three-ball, until finally, with just 22 seconds left in the third quarter, Effertz's ninth one fell through the net and the roof just about blew off.
The second quarter was much of the same for the Wildcats as they pressed on the gas. The Falcons were quickly left in the rearview mirror as the teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime, with the Cats leading 54-15. Those 54 points were tied for the most in a half this season and were greater than five of the Wildcats' total scores all season.
The Wildcats continued to build up their offensive chemistry as the starting lineup retook the floor in the third quarter. The starters and the primary rotational players off the bench took full advantage of the time spent on the floor together and everyone seemed to be feeding off one another. Of course, any offense will flourish when one player scores 27 points and drills nine threes.
The third quarter came to a close, with the Cats now leading 75-19. As Effertz made his way toward the bench, he received a mobbing from his teammates as well as a standing ovation from the crowd.
The fourth quarter flew by with few timeouts and a running clock. The entire game was over in under an hour and 15 minutes. In the fourth, the reserves led the way, getting quality minutes on the floor together. The Wildcats dominated from start to finish and secured a Sectional Final win by a final score of 92-30.
CJ Little facilitated the offense, who finished with a season-high seven assists along with five points and three steals. After missing the previous game against John Marshall, Little was back on the floor. His ball-handling, impressive court vision, and speed are hard to replace.
Ace Buckner was the only other Wildcat in addition to Effertz to reach double-digit points. Buckner had 11 points and was perfect from the field, going 4-4 from inside the arch and 1-1 from three.
Carter Jackson and Braydn Szczepaniak had great nights all around. Jackson had seven points, three rebounds, five assists, and a team-high seven steals. The only missing from his stat line was his signature drawn charge. Szczepaniak finished with six points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Owen Maruca and Sean Martin both had season-high point totals on Saturday. Once again, getting the starting nod at center, Maruca had a season-high eight points and brought down three boards. Martin, another Wildcat that was perfect from the field, had nine points.
The Wildcats had 25 steals, which outnumbered their assist total and tied the number of rebounds as a team. The Cats shot 58.3% from the field and 56.5% from three-point range. There were also seven turnovers committed, although many of those came in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
"This was a good last win at home and I think we're all really hungry to keep going," says Effertz after the game. "We got six more to go and we're excited; there is just a different energy; you can feel it. We're ready for these next six games."
Up next for the Wildcats is the District Semifinal, where the Blue and Gold will take on the Medina Highland Hornets (16-9). Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday. The SIBN will have live video coverage from Elyria Catholic High School. Fans can also follow Saint Ignatius' Twitter @SIHSSports.