OHIO CITY, Oh - The Wildcats came into the final weekend of the regular season with two games against the Brush Arcs and Toledo Start. The Cats are catching fire here towards the tail end of the season with a four-game win streak.
First up was Brush and the Wildcats were looking for revenge after falling to the Arcs last season. Both squads got off sluggishly and the Arcs could not get a three-pointer to fall. Eventually, the Cats picked up the offense with enormous thanks to Jack Zapolnik, who buried a three and beat the buzzer with a halfcourt heave that banked in at the end of the first. The Wildcats led 18-11.
Due to many foul calls, Brush got the bonus early and many of their points from free throws. The Cats' offense was able to combat that thanks to a few big plays starting with Mike Lamirand finishing a layup through contact. Then Ace rose out of nowhere to throw down a poster dunk on top of an Arcs player. The Cats had a sizable 35-23 lead at the half.
The Wildcats jumped to a massive lead in the third quarter as everything clicked. The Arcs didn't score a single point for the first two minutes as the Cats' defense continued to impress. The offense came almost solely from Lamirand, who was electric from beyond the arc in this quarter. He went 3-for-3 from three-point land and sank any hope of the Arcs making a comeback. The fourth quarter was much the same as Brush couldn't keep up. Saint Ignatius took home the win 80-59.
Reece Robinson shined against Brush, posting his first double-double on 13 points and 12 boards. Lamirand led the team in scoring with 14 points on 4-for-4 from three. The Cats held the Arcs to just 35% shooting from the field.
Up next for the Cats was the Toledo Start Spartans. The Spartans had an impressive 14-3 record and a 9-0 record in the Toledo division. They had yet to lose a game in 2023, but that streak would soon end.
Both teams showcased impeccable defense in the first quarter, as there were only 12 points with three minutes to go. Ace Buckner had a seven-point quarter for the Cats with a three-ball and a transition dunk. Matt Ellis drained a three and beat the buzzer on a layup to give the Cats a 12-8 lead.
In the second quarter, the Cats' offense finally caught fire. Reece Robinson knocked down a corner three and added a smooth hook shot. The Cats were running an incredible trap on defense that forced multiple turnovers. The Wildcats led at the half 32-18.
The third quarter started with a Reece Robinson and one through heavy contact. However, the Spartans kept it close, as they got within eight points. Carter Jackson drilled a three to stop the Cats' scoring drought. Toledo Start had their best quarter by far, but they still couldn't match up as the Cats led 46-35.
Buckner knocked down a deep three to get the fourth quarter started. Soon after, he would throw a gorgeous lob to Robinson, who caught it and slammed it in. The Spartans could only muster six points in the quarter as the Cats had their way. It ended with a 72-41 Cats win.
Robinson again had a great showing as he had 16 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. Buckner continued his star play with 18 points on 54% shooting. The Cats forced 20 turnovers and out-rebounded the Spartans 36-20.
The regular season finale saw the Wildcats taking on a talented Western Reserve Academy team. The Pioneers came into the matchup with an impressive 22-7 record. Meanwhile, the Cats wanted to build even more momentum before the playoffs.
The Pioneers got off to a hot start caused by quick Wildcat turnovers. Damon Friery got the Cats' first points followed soon after by a Buckner and one. Both defenses were locked down and neither offense could get a clean look. Eventually, the Cats could claw out a 10-9 lead after the first quarter.
Both offenses picked up more in the second quarter. Robinson showed out with a deep three-ball and a craftily put-back layup. Bucker also got hot as he found his rhythm through jumpers and flashy finishes. The Cats increased their lead to 27-22 at the half.
Carter Jackson started the second half with a strong and one. Then Buckner showed no signs of slowing down as he drilled a contested jumper again. The Pioneers, however, started to get open looks and took advantage of them to close in on the Cats. Western Reserve fought back for the lead 42-40 at the end of the third quarter.
Western Reserve opened their lead even more at the start of the fourth as the Cats' offense faltered. Buckner didn't give up the fight, knocking down a corner three to keep the Cats close. Unfortunately, more would be needed as the Pioneers figured out the Cats' defense couldn't be stopped down the stretch. The Wildcats fell 61-51 to Western Reserve Academy.
Buckner had an incredible night, posting 17 points, three rebounds, six assists and four steals. Jackson also contributed with 11 points and some excellent perimeter defense. The Pioneers shot 6% better from the field than the Cats and 15% better from the free-throw line.
Next up for the Cats is the first round of the OHSAA playoffs. They'll take on Max S. Hayes in the Sullivan gym on Wednesday, the 22nd. Tip-off will be at 7 p.m. and the SIBN will have live coverage.