For the 100th time in the storied history of the famed west side rivalry, the Saint Ignatius Wildcats and St. Edward Eagles will meet on the hardwood.
Friday's matchup will take place at St. Edward's Coach Jim Connors Court in Lakewood, a short 15 minute trip for the Wildcats, with tipoff slated for 7 p.m. after the JV game (5:30 tip).
The Wildcats and Eagles each enter with winning streaks and perfect records in 2019, one of several reasons that Friday's contest will be one to remember.
"Certainly, rivalry games are stars on the schedule," said Head Basketball Coach Brian Becker '77. "For the kids, this is a great opportunity to play in front of people and represent the school. You want the players to come out and represent themselves, the team, and their families to the best of their abilities. It's a game people always remember. No matter what you do, wins and losses in the season, when you're back with your buddies, it's, 'What did you do in the Ed's game?' It's kind of bragging rights in the neighborhood. Certainly, it's an important game."
Saint Ignatius carries a 5-4 record into the contest. The Basketball Cats cradle a two-game winning streak, having defeated Massillon Washington, 67-47, and Elyria Catholic, 76-46. Lukas Bielek and Jonathan Effertz each tallied leading efforts in the first two games of 2019.
On the flipside, St. Edward brings an 8-3 mark into the contest. The Eagles own a five-game winning streak, which includes impressive victories over Benedictine and Kennedy Catholic last weekend. A deep, balanced group of scorers lead the Eagles into the matchup.
The Wildcats and Eagles each have supremely talented players. One of the matchups to watch will be in the post. Kevin Davet, who has anchored the Wildcats inside all season at center, will face off against some great Eagles' forwards. Tae Tae Blanton may be the top Eagles' forward to watch. The junior tallied a career-high 23 points against Kennedy Catholic and a double-double (13 points, 14 boards) vs. Florence in the Beach Ball Classic at Myrtle Beach over Christmas break. Also pay attention to the Wildcats' Henry Raynor, the 6'6 forward who is growing into a dynamic player, and starting Eagles center Spencer Crane.
Looking to guard play, Chase Toppin and Bielek have been top performers on offense for the Wildcats all season. Toppin's distribution as the point guard and his ability to slash to the bucket are a marvel to watch. Bielek has scored in bunches in transition and added points in drives to the hoop. Effertz has also morphed into a dangerous outside scoring threat. On the other side, the Eagles have a cadre of skilled guards. Montorie Foster, Grant Huffman, and Demetrius Terry can each shoot the lights out and find the open man with skill.
Bench scoring has been a trademark for the Eagles. St. Edward tallied 36 bench points against Benedictine, with Brennan Rains and Josh Ogle each chipping in 12 points and Zach Chatmon tallying 9 points.
"Each and every year, I look at the game a little differently. Certainly, this year, with the younger, less experienced type of team we have, this will be a baptism by fire," said Becker. "St. Ed's has strong guards who are really aggressive. Their big guys are strong and can finish at the rim, and they have guys who can shoot the ball. We've got a lot to deal with. Our team will learn a lot from a win or a loss. It's about learning how to compete the right way, then find ways to be a better competitor."
As always, rivalry week draws plenty of hype on social media and elsewhere. It also requires other changes.
Becker switches things up at practice and uses different techniques to prepare his team.
"We do a lot of 6-on-5, a lot of 5-vs-4, plenty of mismatch situations. I use blocking pads to simulate contact," Becker explained. "We also turn the music up loud, because they're used to hearing my voice on the sideline, and that can't happen during the Ed's game. They need to trust their instincts and let them play."
Friday's contest will be a milestone game for both teams, as the contest marks the 100th meeting of the two teams. The Eagles are the Wildcats' most frequent opponent. The closest foes are Holy Name (92 games) and John Marshall (90 games). For the Eagles, the game also marks the midpoint of the season.
The game also features two of the best basketball coaches in Northeast Ohio – Brian Becker '77 for Saint Ignatius, and Eric Flannery for St. Edward. These two longtime coaches – who have 3 state championships between them – have their fingerprints all over the rivalry. After Friday, Becker (now in his 22nd season) will have participated in exactly half of the 100 Saint Ignatius vs. St. Edward games – 48 as a coach, 2 as a player. Flannery will coach his 52nd rivalry game on Friday.
"Eric and I are friends, but we're competitors, as well," Becker said. "Once you step on the floor, all friendships are lost."
The milestone provides a good opportunity to look back at the history of the rivalry. Here are some interesting tidbits about the rivalry.
• Saint Ignatius owns the series advantage, 54-45
• 51 of the 99 games have been decided by 10 points or more
• 17 of the 99 games have been decided by one possession
• 9 of the last 25 games have been decided by one possession
• In the last 10 years, the Eagles have an advantage of 18-7
• The Wildcats' largest margin of victory is 27 points, during a win in the 1985-86 season
• The Eagles' largest margin of victory is 35 during the second matchup in the 2006-07 season
• The Wildcats' longest winning streak is 8 games, stretching from the 1983-84 season to the 1986-87 campaign
• The Eagles' longest winning streak is also 8 games, extending from the 2008-09 season to the 2011-12 campaign
• Wildcats' coach Brian Becker '77 owns a 24-25 record against St. Edward – 23-24 as head coach, 1-1 as a player
• Eric Flannery sports a 33-18 record vs. Saint Ignatius as St. Edward's head coach
As always, the SIBN will have live coverage from the Eagles' Nest, with Zack Strom and Kurt Pickering on the call. This will be the SIBN's 27th Saint Ignatius vs. St. Edward basketball broadcast.