OHIO CITY, OH - Over the weekend, the Saint Ignatius Basketball Cats prepared for two more fierce competitions on back-to-back evenings. They protected home court against the top team in Division III on Friday night and battled with the reigning Division II champions on Saturday.
For the second straight game, the Blue and Gold lined up with a Lutheran school; this time, the Falcons made the trip. Junior Quinn Woidke scored with a deep three-pointer, a theme throughout the night, but was matched by Lutheran East's Anthony Bruce from deep.
Falcon freshman Chris Hill tied the game up with an acrobatic layup after Jack Zapolnik's free throws, which ended up being the closest the score was for the remainder of the contest. Sam Springer poured in five straight points and Mike Lamirand canned a deep trifecta.
Matt Ellis followed that up with a transition layup before a Ronald Taylor layup stopped the 10-0 run. With time ticking down in the quarter, Sean Martin fired a pass to Ellis, who pump faked, then hit a buzzer-beater three to give Saint Ignatius an 18-7 lead after the first.
The scoring slowed for the Wildcats to start the second, allowing Lutheran East to go on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to seven. Damon Friery hit a corner three after an exceptional wrap pass from Woidke, who scored five straight points to force a Falcon timeout.
The Falcons' Michigan State signee Jesse McCulloch got on the board with a nifty post move, and Woidke struck again off a pass from Lamirand. Friery and McCulloch shared trips to the line, and the first half ended, with a score of 31-19 in favor of the home side.
Woidke stayed hot out of the locker room with a steal and an and-one layup to open the quarter. Reece Robinson drained his first three-pointer of the season and Woidke followed with a deep pull-up three on the next trip up the court, extending the lead to 21.
Zapolnik got the rebound and took off in transition from a missed Falcon three, dropping a pass between his legs for the trailing Woidke, who hit his third trifecta of the night. Lutheran East would chop the lead to 13 behind seven straight McCulloch tallies, but Woidke's fourth three-pointer ended the run.
Just two possessions later, the Cats rapid ball movement left Woidke alone at the top of the key, where he buried his fifth and final three of the contest. Quinn finished with 24 points on the night, a team-high. The Wildcats took a 52-30 advantage into the fourth quarter.
It was more of the same in the fourth quarter for both squads, with the Wildcat reserves featuring for most of the final frame. McCulloch tried as hard as he could to keep Lutheran East in the game, scoring 15 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats held the visitors off for a 69-54 statement win.
The next day, Head Basketball Coach Cam Joyce and his crew hit the road south to Akron, where they had the reigning Division II champions, the Buchtel Griffins, waiting. Though less dangerous than during their title-winning campaign, the Wildcats soon learned the Griffins still had a host of firepower.
A defensive slugfest was imminent from the beginning, with both teams playing sloppy basketball and combining for eight points in the first four minutes. Buchtel reached a six-point advantage when Springer nailed a three to stop the bleeding, but Zevin Gadson responded with a stepback trifecta.
That, coupled with a disciplined defense, helped propel the Griffins to an 11-7 first-quarter advantage, the first deficit the Cats faced at the end of the quarter since the Centerville game.
Friery and the Griffins traded transition euro-step layups to open the second frame before Buchtel went to work on obviously tired Saint Ignatius legs, using a blazing transition game to go on a 9-0 run.
Friery and Springer hit three-pointers to chip away at the lead, but Buchtel again pushed the lead to double digits with quick baskets. Both defenses stepped up to end the half with scoring becoming a struggle, and besides a Woidke layup, the teams settled for the free throw to end the half 28-17 in favor of Buchtel.
Whatever speech the coaching staff gave in the locker room must have worked because the third quarter drastically improved from the opening two frames. Woidke started the quarter with two steals and buckets, but the lead was pushed back to 11 after three Griffin buckets.
Kalli Johnson got onto the board with a floater and hit another tough layup a few possessions later to cut the lead to eight. With Buchtel on their heels, Johnson intercepted the pass and put another floater to chip away further.
Robinson put on a nifty move in the post to trim the lead to four, and Johnson came up with another steal, which set up Lamirand for a fastbreak flush. Buchtel split a pair of free throws at the stripe to make the score 37-34 with only one quarter to go.
Woidke once again started the scoring in the quarter by knifing through the lane, hitting a layup and two free throws to give the Cats the lead. The lead was short-lived, however, as Diaire Pride hit an and-one, along with a transition layup to restore a four-point Griffin advantage.
Ellis answered the run with a corner three to stop the bleeding, and the teams traded free throws and field goals before Johnson gave the Wildcats the lead with a floater and Ellis put the game on ice with a three-pointer from the other corner. Zapolnik canned four free throws to secure the Wildcat 55-46 win.
The Cats are idle through the week but have another eventful weekend awaiting them as they'll travel to Lakewood to take on the St. Edward Eagles on Friday at 7 p.m. A place the Wildcats have yet to win since February 10, 2017, when the Cats won an overtime thriller, 75-72.
The following night, the Wildcats will host the Avon Eagles at Sullivan Gym at 7 p.m. for Senior Night. With five games remaining in the regular season, the Wildcats are at 14-3 as they gear up for the postseason.