Ohio City - It was an afternoon and night of celebration on the campus of Cleveland's Jesuit Preparatory School, as Saint Ignatius' Athletics and Communications Departments, in a special Varsity pre-game ceremony, paid tribute to the Wildcats' Basketball Seniors, Senior Team Managers, Members of the Saint Ignatius Basketball Broadcast Network, and the Wildcats' gifted Ryan Grabowski of the Student Sports Information Department. The parents of all of the honorees were also recognized.
Another yearly winter tradition continued on Saturday evening, as the Saint Ignatius Community recognized and honored our area's Safety Forces for the outstanding dedication and service they provide for the entire Cleveland area.
Before this old gym rat gets into the Wildcats' Saturday Basketball reports, I would like to congratulate Saint Ignatius Basketball Seniors Dom DiNunzio, Luke Wiskes, Jon Barnes, Neeko Melendez, Aymin Bahhur and Josh Ozanne, and senior Team Managers Gabe Liberatore and Reilly Casey, and thank them for all the kindness and support they have given this seasoned reporter.
And I would like to tip my many sports caps to Mr. Joe Ginley '12, Communications Coordinator for Wildcats Athletics, for his outstanding Safety Forces/Senior Night Basketball Program. It is something the players and their parents can cherish for years to come.
Now let's talk some hoops.
The lead sentence of this story said afternoon and night because Saint Ignatius' oh so promising Freshmen Blue and Gold Teams got a Saturday fab four of action started with victories over Elyria Catholic and Beachwood, respectively. Thanks to a refreshing brewed cup of coffee from the Wildcats' concession stand, this corner spent 8 enjoyable hours in Father Sullivan Gymnasium on Saturday.
We will get to the recaps on the Freshmen games later in this report, but first we'll take a look at Saturday night's 64-62, down-to-the-wire victory by Coach Brian Becker's Wildcats over the upset-minded Varsity Bison from Beachwood High School, and another impressive performance from the Junior Varsity Basketball 'Cats, who rained 3-pointers on the JV Bison en route to a 69-45 triumph.
SENIORS JON BARNES AND NEEKO MELENDEZ HELP KEY LATE FOURTH QUARTER SURGES, AS THE VARSITY WILDCATS RALLY PAST THE YOUNG BISON FROM BEACHWOOD.
From storied Father Sullivan Gymnasium: After his Wildcats improved to 11-6 on Saturday night, Hall of Fame Head Coach Brian Becker '77 quickly pointed to the effort by his defense in the second half.
"I thought that was the tipping stone," said Coach Becker "We defended No. 12 (Bison junior forward Jayson Woodrich) really well, where in the first half we let him get off and get some open jumpers. He only had five points in the second half.
"It's a hard double coming off St. Eds (Friday's 85-67 loss on the Eagles' Coach Jim Connors Court)," Coach Becker continued. "Their (the Bison) young guards got into the seams against us. But we made plays when we needed to make plays. I thought Jon Barnes made some big plays down the stretch, Neeko (Melendez) hits a big three (3-pointer) down the stretch and makes two clutch free throws down the stretch.
"Overall, I thought Josh Ozanne (multiskilled senior guard/forward) kept us in the game early on with seven points in the first quarter. He came out ready to play. But we needed to grind the game out. That's like a sectional final, right there, against a Beachwood team that is real scrappy and is never going to quit.
"But we'll regroup and get ready for Massillon next week (Saturday night in Tiger Town)," said Coach Becker, who also pointed to the "work on the boards" by tough and talented senior post Dom DiNunzio. The Wildcats played without reliable starting senior forward Aymin Bahhur (ill).
Beachwood, which now stands a deceiving 10-9, moved to a 10-point lead late in the first half behind the long-range shooting of Woodrich and some strong work by freshman forward Collin Albert.
Saint Ignatius, on the strength of a layup by DiNunzio off an assist from from gifted senior forward Luke Wiskes and a basket by versatile sophomore guard Chase Toppin via an assist from Melendez, closed to 37-31 by halftime.
In what was a give-and-take third quarter, the Bison took a five-point lead late in the quarter before DiNunzio's authoritative put back enabled the Wildcats to cut the deficit to three points entering the final eight minutes.
Barnes, who scored nine of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter, knotted the score at 52 with a drive to the rim. After Woodrich completed a three-point play off an athletic and determined tip-in, Melendez tied the score at 55 with a triple off an assist from Toppin.
Ice-in-his veins Melendez was money off a spin-move jumper in the lane that gave the 'Cats a two-point lead, but Woodrich evened things up again with a follow.
Barnes would convert a Wiskes assist into a soft 1-hander in the lane, only to see the Bison take a 60-59 lead with 1 minute and 54 seconds remaining to be played.
It was Barnes time again, as Jon stepped up and hit both ends of a 1-and-1 free-throw situation that put Saint Ignatius in front by one point with 1:19 left on the clock.
Holding a 62-60 lead off another Barnes free throw, the Wildcats survived a steal by Woodrich when Woodrich's ensuing 3-point look bounced off the rim and was rebounded by Melendez. Neeko was fouled on his rebound and he calmly stepped to the line and sent home both ends of a 1-and-1 that increased Saint Ignatius' lead to 64-60 with 9.3 seconds remaining.
The Bison would score in the final seconds, but the clock expired and the Wildcats were back in the win column, a victory that has Coach Becker just two wins shy of 350 for his outstanding career.
"Those third and fourth quarters were very solid," Coach Becker said, as he now awaits Sunday's release from the OHSAA on the seedings and pairings for the Strongsville Division I District Tournament. "The defense gave the offense the opportunity to score some points."
Barnes and Woodrich each scored 17 points in sharing game honors. Woodrich hit four 3-pointers in the first half. Melendez finished with 14 points, including seven in the fourth quarter, and DiNunzio's eight rebounds led the 'Cats to a 31-23 advantage in that department.
CONNOR CMIEL'S SIX 3-POINTERS AND A SOLID ALL-AROUND NIGHT FROM RORY MCCONVILLE HAVE THE JUNIOR VARSITY WILDCATS STANDING AT 15-2.
Sophomore forward Connor Cmiel was simply too much for the JV Bison to deal with on Saturday evening, as Connor scored a game-high 23 points, that included six of the 11 3-pointers the JV 'Cats laid on the Beachwood defense.
Wildcats leave-it-all-on-the-floor sophomore guard Rory McConville was a force at both ends of the storied court in Father Sullivan Gymnasium, as he scored 12 points, including two 3-pointers, dished off for some sweet assists and played relentless defense from the get-go.
Ever-present sophomore forward/guard Griffin Hanna contributed 10 points on a night when nine JV 'Cats reached the scoring column.
The Bison Jayvees were also more than capable when it came to shooting 3-pointers, as junior guards Scott Newkirk and Noah Simon combined for 37 points and nine 3-pointers. Newkirk had five treys and Simon scored 20 points.
The JV 'Cats are scheduled to play a Wednesday evening game at Elyria Catholic, with the opening tip slated for 6 PM, and then they will join the Varsity on the bus ride to Massillon Saturday for a 6 PM matchup with the JV Tigers. Saint Ignatius' Varsity is scheduled to face the Varsity Tigers at 7:30.
AND STAYING ON THE SUBJECT OF 3-POINTERS, THIS CORNER CONGRATULATES COACH TOM PARKER'S AND COACH KYLE WISE'S FRESHMEN GOLD WILDCATS, WHO ALSO HAD AN 11 3-POINTERS PERFORMANCE IN SATURDAY'S 74-29 VICTORY OVER BEACHWOOD AT SULLIVAN GYM.
Guard Peter Fitzpatrick, whose dad, Pete '90, this old-timer had the privilege to cover and report on for The Plain Dealer when Pete, an outstanding tailback, was helping lead Saint Ignatius to its first two State Football Championships in 1998 and 1989, and to the first of its three National Titles in 1989, led the Gold 'Cats with 15 points on Saturday afternoon.
The Gold 'Cats, who improved to 12-4, are scheduled to travel to Archbishop Hoban on Monday for a matchup with the ninth-grade Knights at 5 PM.
A TIP OF THIS CORNER'S CAP ALSO GOES OUT TO HEAD COACH REGAN SWEENEY AND HIS OUTSTANDING ASSISTANT COACHES, MARK HESTER AND T.J. DISANTO, WHO GUIDED THEIR BLUE 'CATS TO A 65-52 VICTORY OVER ELYRIA CATHOLIC IN THE FIRST GAME OF SATURDAY AFTERNOON'S DOUBLEHEADER IN SULLIVAN GYMNASIUM.
The now 10-3 Blue 'Cats, who were coming off an impressive victory at St. Edward on Wednesday evening, started Saturday's 3-point barrage with nine treys.
Henry Raynor and Will Yontek led the Blue with 11-point efforts, Jack Dunstan and Michael Mattimore scored 10 and 8 points, respectively, Andrew Chime had six points off two tone-setting 3-pointers, Eli Kappler totaled five points, and Luke Roggenburk turned in a strong defensive performance.
Up next for the Blue 'Cats is Tuesday evening's 5:30 matchup with the ninth-grade Bengals from Benedictine in Father Sullivan Gymnasium.