By Bonta Hill
Faced with the odds of playing two games within a six-hour span, St. Ignatius High School needed every ounce of energy to get to the championship game of the 35th Annual Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic.
After having their game against Oakland Tech postponed due to a blackout caused by a rain storm, the Wildcats were faced with the daunting task of playing two full court pressure teams within a short time frame.
St. Ignatius was up to the challenge as they beat the Bulldogs 67-49 early in the afternoon on Wednesday, only to take the court three hours later and outlast a pesky Mission team in a 49-48 thriller.
Matt Quintana’s two free throws with eight seconds left, and Stephen Domingo’s block on Mission’s last field goal attempt helped the Wildcats (7-2) hold on against the scrappy Bears (6-7), who nearly pulled the upset after climbing out of an 18-point second-half deficit.
Johnny Mrlik led the St. Ignatius with 16 points and Domingo scored 13 points, and his block on the in the final seconds put his team into tomorrow night’s final at 7 p.m. against Burlingame High School.
“We didn’t have anything in the fourth quarter, the intensity wasn’t there,” said St. Ignatius head coach John DeBenedetti. “It was matter of just someone making a play, and we got Mrlik to make a layup, Quintana hit the two free throws, Domingo who had been struggling and comes up with that huge block. Wow, four of the five guys running on fumes made big plays at the end of the game there.”
After coasting through their game against Oakland Tech, the Wildcats showed no fatigue early on against Mission.
Mrlik helped his team go on a 14-0 run with 10 first-half points as they went into halftime comfortably ahead, 27-11.
The Wildcats zone defense in the first half made Mission look like they were the team playing their second game of the day. St. Ignatius flustered the Bears into a paltry 5-of-23 shooting and nine turnovers.
“The name of the game with [Mission] is to drive and [pass] it to the open shooter,” said Mrlik. “[Mission] is scary though and they can pull off a 10-15 point swing in five minutes. But we pulled [the game out].”
Mission came out energized in the second half and would climb back from a 16-point halftime deficit behind their full-court defense.
Forward Gione Edwards led the charge with a game-high 17 points, 15 coming in the second half, and also grabbed eight rebounds.
The Bears relentless defense forced the Wildcats into seven second-half turnovers, and forced the fatigued Wildcats to become stagnant on offense.
Mission would take the lead at 44-43 with 1:47 left in the game after a baseline jumper by senior guard Jaleel Stancil, but the Wildcat squickly went back up on a layup by E.J. Silvia.
With a minute left in the game, Stancil put the Bears back up 46-45 with a floater in traffic, sending the Mission faithful into a frenzy.
The Bears upset bid would come up short, however, as Edwards’ drive to the hoop would be blocked by Domingo. The final ticks would run out and St. Ignatius, despite fighting off fatigue and the intense Bear defense, advanced to the tournament final.
Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya, who’s team will take on Santa Cruz High School in the third place game at 2:30 p.m., was proud of his team’s effort. He just wished they had started the contest with more energy and intensity.
“We slept walked through the first half. There was no energy and we were doing real poorly against their zone,” Zelaya said. “We’re still trying to figure out rotations and chemistry, but we kept fighting, so I can’t be prouder. I’m happy with the effort, but we can’t dig ourselves a hole like that.”
After dealing with adverse circumstances the last 24 hours, DeBenedetti is happy that they are going through this unusual situation. He noted his team goes through similar scenarios in the grueling West Catholic Athletic League.
“Tomorrow is a huge game that will have huge CCS implications, [Burlingame is] in Division III with us, so that’s a big one,” DeBenedetti said. “The other part is we play three-game weeks in the WCAL, so this is going to be a real gut check for us.”
Gione Edwards – 17
Alec Tatum – 9
Algeron Malbrough – 8
Jaleel Stancil – 6
Antoine Porter – 4
Johnny Mrlik – 16
Stephen Domingo – 13
Mat Collins – 8
E.J. Silvia – 6
Three tied with 2 points