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The Lax Cats Head Into the Playoffs

By Matt Kelly '22, 05/10/22, 1:00PM EDT


The Lacrosse Cats are the number one seed in Region 2 as they head into the OHSAA Tournament.

OHIO CITY, Oh - The 2022 spring sports regular season had been a tremendous year of Saint Ignatius Wildcat athletics. The lacrosse team was 9-5 while playing one of the best schedules in the nation for high school lacrosse, the rugby team was 10-1 with an average win of 54-7 and the only loss coming in France, baseball was 13-5, the crew won four of five divisions at the Rustbelt Championship in Michigan at their last regatta, the track team won their previous two invitationals and had the top 4x400m relay in the state.

But there was one series of matchups across all spring sports that would determine how the Wildcats would feel about this season. Against our main rivals, the Wildcats were tied 2-2 across four spring sports so far, wins by rugby and baseball but losses by volleyball and track, with the fifth regular-season matchup coming on May 4, 2022, from Wasmer Field.
The St. Edward Eagles' lacrosse team was 8-5 coming into their second final game of the regular season. Based on common opponents played, the Wildcats were clear pre-game favorites. There were two teams that both teams had played and beaten, University School and Jackson, one team that both had played and lost to, Western Reserve Academy, but three teams which St. Edward had lost to and Saint Ignatius had defeated: Hudson, Kiski Prep and Hoover. The Wildcats, on average, had won by more against University School and Jackson (10 avg vs. 7 avg), lost by fewer to WRA (5 vs. 12) and beaten Hudson, Kiski School, and Hoover by 5, 1 and 10, while St. Edward lost to these teams by 8, 9 and 2.

The Wildcats have defeated St. Edward every season going back to at least 2014, with wins by 15, 11, 14, 1, 9, 7 and 9 goals in those years. Both teams this year have star power galore and plenty of great wins, and the game would be a great one.

The Eagles showed early into this game that the predictions for this matchup didn't phase them. They struck first with a goal at 9:19 into the match by Dillon McKeigue and then second, just two minutes later, with a goal from Jackson Stimple. Luciano Yacavone cut the lead with a strong shot through a crosscheck, but Stimple caught the Wildcats' defense sleeping two more times before the end of the quarter, 4-1 Eagles. The Eagles were making the right plays and taking better, on-target shots while the Wildcats were playing flat. Before the start of the second quarter, Joey Ryland on the SIBN predicted Chris Aerni to be a player to watch in the second quarter, as the defense needed to step up for the Wildcats.

 Just under a minute and a half into the second quarter, Logan Rechin made a save and found Aerni open in-stride at the 50-yard line on a clear. Aerni made one pass to the crease and Nate Zoldesy took care of the rest, 4-2. Yacavone took it alone from his spot at X and scored quickly on the next possession, but the Wildcats were still down with 9:36 to play in the 2nd quarter. Rechin made another save on the Eagles' next possession, and after a timeout, Griffin Taliak tied the game on a side-arm blazer.

The momentum was with the Cats, but not the lead. Until Yacavone put down his hat-trick goal less than 19 minutes into the game, taking it from X with a screen from Zoldesy, 5-4 Wildcats. The Eagles called a timeout to summon an answer and did, having a very patient possession culminating with a Bryce Madden goal, 5-5. Next, Braeden Lair, the 2021 NE Ohio FOGO of the year, scored by himself in six seconds on the next face-off, 6-5. After Lair won the next face-off, but the Wildcats lost the ball at midfield, Taliak and David Whitley sandwiched a St. Edward midfielder and knocked the ball free for Taliak to scoop and head with toward the bottom corner of the box.

He found the rolling Whitley on the crease, who caught the ball in one hand and flicked it in for the Sportscenter-Top-10 goal, 7-5. At this point, "The Cats were rolling." The Eagles then held the ball on offense for most of the last two minutes of the half after Whitley's goal and notched one goal, by Danny Enovitch. That was it for the first half; after starting down 4-1, the Wildcats led 7-6 at halftime.

The third quarter of this game may go down more as a legend than as factual history. Lair scored 10 seconds in, but more Wildcat goals than you can count on one hand were still to come. Zoldesy got himself wide open, cutting to the crease to catch a pass from Yacavone, 9-6, then Taliak scored his second goal from 20 yards out, 10-6. St. Edward had no response. The Cats were on a 9-2 run and St. Edward could barely achieve a possession.

SIBN Players of the Game vs. St. Edward: Jacob Cook and Reece Weber

After this Taliak goal, things start to get blurry in the memory of this SIBN broadcaster. In the last 5:23 of the third quarter, the Wildcats scored five of the most rapid-fire, magnificent goals you'll ever see. Drew Wynocker scored the first, firing from the left hand at the 20-yard-hash mark spot into the most upper-right nook of the goal—finding space that Neil DeGrasse Tyson couldn't explain—past the goalkeeper for his second goal of the day. Next, Charlie Dunstan initiated the fast break off a faceoff-scrum and gave the ball to Yac up high, who caught and passed in one, sweeping under-hand motion to Wynocker on the right side of the crease for the dunk just 17 seconds after his goal before.

Drew wasn't done and after a quick shot from St. Edward and a relay from Miller to Rechin to Taliak to Wynocker. Wynocker, from the same spot as the goal before, completed a hat trick in 41 seconds. Forty-one seconds of the game is all it took for the University of Denver commit to score three goals, which was more than St. Edward had scored in the last 22 minutes of play. Immediately off the next face-off, Kevin Bradley picked the ball up after a push call and connected with Gino Devengencie, who stayed on the field rather than run off as FOGO, who kept the speed going for the Cats and scored the Wildcats' 14th of the game, their seventh in the third quarter, and their fourth in 55 seconds.

After this goal, however, the Wildcats cooled off, taking an entire 1:42 to score again. Whitley capped off an 8-0 quarter for the Wildcats with a rocket, top right cheddar, for his second of the game. Then, St. Edward finally possessed the ball on offense after the next face-off and held the ball for the rest of the quarter to kill off the Wildcat's momentum. The Cats' defensive stand at the end of the quarter and their lockdown throughout the third proved that they were just as crucial to an 8-0 domination of a third-quarter as the offense.

At this point, a win seemed secure for Senior Night. Aerni nearly netted the Cats' 16th but shot just wide. The first goal of the fourth was by St. Edward's Bryce Madden, matched by none other than the one and only Reece Weber, going between the goalie's legs, 16-7. Over the next seven minutes, goals came from Wynocker for the Cats and Madden with his hat track for St. Edward.

Once again, by playing a solid second half, the Wildcats earned the win. They moved to 10-5, undefeated against any team they may see in the Division 1 OHSAA playoffs. Even with crucial players Matt Kempton, Connor Grace and Mitchell Rini out, the Cats looked dominant.

Next up, the Cats competed at the MSLA Tournament. Leading 7-6 with seconds remaining in regulation, St. Xavier tied the game at seven to force overtime. Within seconds into OT, Lair won the face-off and hit the game-winning goal. In the MSLA Semifinal, the Cats would take on Western Reserve Academy and fall 20-8.

The final game of the regular season was canceled vs. the Hill Academy (ONT). The next time the Lacrosse Cats hit the field will be in the OHSAA Tournament for the first round of the Regional Bracket. Saint Ignatius is the number one seed in Region two and will host the winner of Boardman/Cleveland Heights on May 16 at 6 p.m. from Wasmer Field.