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A Celebration 23 Years in the Making; The Cats Win the 2024 State Championship

By Eli Maistros '24, 03/26/24, 11:15AM EDT


A program record 26th win leads the Wildcats past Centerville in the 2024 OHSAA Division I State Championship.

Saint Ignatius vs. Delaware Hayes

DAYTON, OH - For the third time in four seasons, the Wildcats returned to Dayton for the Final Four in Division I. After heartbreaking losses in the State Semifinal in 2021 and 2022, the Wildcats ensured they would not suffer the same fate in 2024. After a Quinn Woidke game-winner to lead the Cats past Delaware Hayes 54-53 in the State Semifinal, the Wildcats would have a shot at their first State Championship since the 2000-01 season. 

On Saturday, March 23, Saint Ignatius got off to a hot start, scoring the game's first six points, and the teams traded baskets, with the Wildcats holding onto that lead. Junior Damon Friery canned a long three-pointer halfway through the quarter, and a Jack Zapolnik layup increased the lead to nine. 

Delaware Hayes' Jesse Burris, an Ohio University signee, drained a three-pointer to stop the bleeding. Landon Vanderwarker threw down an incredible putback dunk that ignited the highly populated Pacer crowd. Quinn Woidke hit two free throws late in the quarter, and neither team scored for the final 01:20 of the quarter, ending the frame with the Cats up 19-11. 

Matt Ellis opened the second quarter with a top-of-the-key triple, but sophomore Jeremiah Russell went on a personal 5-0 run, and Burris sunk two free throws to cut the lead to four. A Friery layup and Ellis' signature steal-and-score gave the Wildcats some cushion and forced a timeout. 

Burris finished a transition layup, and Ellis continued his hot half with an acrobatic layup through traffic before Friery hit a college-level three off the glass to put the Wildcats up 11. Jake Lowman responded with a three of his own and sent the teams into the break with a 31-23 score in favor of Saint Ignatius. 

It was sloppy basketball to start the third quarter, with each team committing multiple turnovers before Woidke opened the scoring with a layup. Vanderwarker cleaned up his miss and put it back in, then converted on an and-one play to cut the lead to five, and Burris had an easy layup after a Carter Piatt-Brown steal. 

With the momentum completely flipped in the Pacers' favor and the sea of orange inside the UD Arena on their feet, the onslaught continued with Burris getting a putback layup to give Delaware Hayes their first lead of the game and yet another Vanderwarker and one put Hayes up four. 

Woidke finished at the rim to stop the run, and Vanderwarker and Reece Robinson traded layups as the clock winded down in the third. With three seconds to go, Chase Griggs pulled in an offensive rebound and hit a fallaway mid-range jumper as time expired in the quarter to make the score 43-39 with one quarter left. 

Woidke opened the quarter with a trifecta, and Robinson scored down low to take the lead and force a timeout. Vanerwarker hit two more free throws to re-take the lead, but Zapolnik knifed through the lane, layed the ball in to switch the advantage once more, and hit a crafty reverse layup to extend the lead to three. 

Vanderwarker made it a one-point game with some bully ball in the paint before Zapolnik committed his fourth foul, and during his pleas to the officials, he was given a technical foul, and his night was ended. Hayes made three of four free throws, and after holding the ball until the 1:51 mark, split a pair of free throws to go up 51-48. 

Mike Lamirand scored off a backdoor pass from Woidke, and Burris nailed two foul shots to grow the lead back to three. Friery scored inside the key, giving him a team-high 16 points and making Hayes use their final timeout with 0:41 to go. In the game's most important play, the Wildcat defense got a steal at around midcourt, and Head Basketball Coach Cam Joyce called timeout with 0:23 left. 

The Wildcats decided not to hold for the last shot, as they got the ball in the hands of Woidke, and he drove to the cup and finished an off-balanced shot over Vanderwarker with 0:10 on the clock. The Pacers were out of timeouts, and Lowman's long three-point attempt at the buzzer was no good, sending Saint Ignatius to the State Championship game for the first time since 2001. 

Saint Ignatius vs. Centerville

DAYTON, OH - Powell, a Xavier University signee, answered with a triple, but Ellis scored off another Lamirand three-point block. Lamirand continued his incredible defensive day, stealing the inbound pass, leading to another Ellis basket. Saint Ignatius continued to weather their lead, although a hot stretch from Powell cut the lead to eight with 0:27 left. 

After two Lamirand free throws and a defensive stop, coach Cam emptied his bench to run out the final ten seconds, and as the buzzer sounded, pandemonium ensued on the court, with the Wildcats being crowned State Champions. 

It was the first program title in 23 years for the Wildcats and with the 66-56 win over Centerville, it would be a program record 26th victory. In their final game wearing the Blue and Gold, Zapolnik, Lamirand, Ellis and Robinson scored in the double digits. 

Zapolnik would score 14 points and record seven assists and five rebounds. Lamiran would score 11 points, knocking down three triples, and finished with seven boards, three blocks, and two steals. Robinson would add 10 points and five boards. Ellis was as solid as he was all season off the bench, adding 12 points for the Wildcats. 

Ellis and Sean Martin earned four varsity letters for the Wildcats and were members of the 2021 and 2022 Final Four squads. They finish their Wildcat careers with a State Championship. Ellis will continue his academic and basketball career at Case Western University and Martin will play football for Northwestern next fall. 

As for coach Cam, it would be his first State Championship victory at the helm for the Wildcats, joining his father Dru Joyce II as a champion, who has won seven State Championships with St. Vincent-St. Mary. After a State Semifinal loss to Centerville in 2022, coach Cam fulfilled his promise, brought back a State Title for the Blue and Gold, and put Saint Ignatius Basketball on the map. 

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