Boys Basketball: Sacred Heart misses late give St. Ignatius edge in Bruce-Mahoney

St. Ignatius senior guard Johnny Mrlik scoops a layup past Sacred Heart Cathedral junior forward Taylor Johns on Tuesday at USF's War Memorial Gymnasium. (Photo by AJ Canaria) Check out the slideshow below for many more photos.

By Jeremy Balan

The St. Ignatius boys basketball team’s heart-stopping 42-40 win over rival Sacred Heart Cathedral gives the Wildcats ownership of the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy for the second consecutive year, but the game may be remembered more for the points left on the floor.

The Fightin’ Irish (10-3, 2-1) shot 3-of-11 from the free throw line, including five key misses in the fourth quarter, in the loss on Tuesday at USF’s War Memorial Gymnasium.

Sacred Heart Cathedral junior forward Joshua Fox celebrates after a dunk against St. Ignatius on Tuesday at USF's War Memorial Gymnasium. (Photo by AJ Canaria)

“You get in this atmosphere, in a close game, and you hope your guys can get the crowd out of their head and knock them down,” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “In the end, that’s what got us.”

The free throws may have been the difference, but it was a three-point attempt from the corner by Martin Folan that touched every part of the rim, swirling in and out with 35 seconds left that was the dagger.

“That was absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen a ball go that far down and out,” Folan said. “I thought it was in. It just wasn’t our night, I guess.”

Folan had another opportunity to put the Irish on top with six seconds left, but the shot fell short, and after a E.J. Silvia free throw with .7 seconds remaining, the Irish could not get a shot off to beat the buzzer.

The Irish did everything they could to get back in the game after trailing 26-15 at the half, but whenever they came close or took the lead, St. Ignatius (10-4, 1-2) senior guard Johnny Mrlik had an answer.

Mrlik had a game-high 16 points, but eight came in the fourth quarter, including a cold-blooded three-pointer after Sacred Heart tied the game up at 33-33 early in the quarter and a three-point play on a driving layup after the Irish took a 39-38 lead with just over two minutes remaining.

“Last year, I was more of a spot-up shooter, but this year I’m taking the ball up more and trying to distribute,” Mrlik said. “Our team set me up great, driving and then kicking out to me. I just had some open shots and got lucky today.”

While the dramatic ending may cause some to forget, it was the early St. Ignatius defensive effort that held the Irish to 15 first-half points and a season-low 40 total.

“We did a great job in the first half pushing the guys out in the post,” said St. Ignatius head coach John DeBenedetti. “In the third quarter the guys got a little tired and we gave up a couple of dunks, but overall it was just great defense.”

The St. Ignatius defense was led early by standout sophomore forward Stephen Domingo, who had three blocks in the first quarter alone, getting the St. Ignatius crowd involved early. But Domingo, who averages scoring in double-digits, was held to just four points on 1-of-10 shooting from the floor.

“What I was most proud of about Stephen tonight was that he played a complete game,” DeBenedetti said. “It’s hard, when you’re a person who’s used to scoring and you’re not, it’s easy for it to influence the rest of your game. He really showed his composure and it really shows his progress.”

While Domingo and Mrlik were held scoreless in the first quarter, the Wildcats got a significant lift from unsung senior forward Silvia, who scored their first eight points of the game and hit his first six shots from the floor en route to a 13-point performance.

“He’s just, plain and simple, a warrior,” DeBenedetti said. “What you see is what you get. He puts his emotion right on the very edge and he was phenomenal tonight.”

Sacred Heart’s late surge was led by junior forward Joshua Fox, who had nine of his team-high 13 points in the second half, but it will be his two missed free throws with 1:38 remaining that will haunt the Irish.

“He’s a player and what I love about him is that he’s versatile,” Barbour said of Fox. “He’s only going to get better and better because he wants to be good, just like this team. I’m proud of my team, I mean, we didn’t win tonight, but we’ll bounce back and be in the thick of things in the end.”

The win secures the coveted Bruce-Mahoney trophy for the Wildcats, after the football team’s win in the fall, rendering the baseball game inconsequential, at least as far as the series is concerned.

“I’m sure the baseball coach will want to take me out for a drink and a steak right now,” DeBenedetti said. “We pick each other up. Last year we dropped this game and they bailed us out on their end. We picked them up this time. That’s what we do as a coaching staff and as a school.”

Scoring Leaders

St. Ignatius
Johnny Mrlik – 16
E.J. Silvia – 13
Nick Johnson – 6
Stephen Domingo – 4
Antonio Aguilar – 3

Sacred Heart Cathedral
Joshua Fox – 13
Taylor Johns – 10
Martin Folan – 8
Herman Pratt – 7
Zach Tapel – 2

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  1. Johnny Drama says:

    As is usually the case, SI beats a more talented SHC team. There must be a mental block on Ellis Street.

  2. Reader says:


  3. Reader says:

    RE: “I’m sure the baseball coach will want to take me out for a drink and a steak right now,” DeBenedetti said. “We pick each other up. Last year we dropped this game and they bailed us out on their end. We picked them up this time. That’s what we do as a coaching staff and as a school.”

    What a load. It’s sheer luck that wins, nothing else. What else pulled Folan’s shot out of the basket, the good fairy?

  4. Anonymous says:

    @Reader….you say it’s luck? If so, LUCK has been on their side, I believe, something like 12 out of the last 13 years……sometimes you make your own luck!!! GO CATS!!!!!

  5. Reader says:

    @Anon… Sorry, Anon, but a game-winning shot twirling around on the rim for 5 seconds (which seemed like forever) and dropping-off certainly is sheer luck.

  6. Johnny Drama says:

    Call it what you want, but it counts as an L !!!

  7. Missed it? Watch it. says:

    Wednesday, Jan 12th 7pm. Comcast 104

  8. EENERSports says:

    This game went down to the wire. SHC made a great effort to come back but too many missed opportunities hurt them. I shot the game for EENERSports and two plays stood out the most: 1. the first 3 pointer shot by #14 Johnny Mrlik and 2. the last 3pt attempt by SHC’s #5 Martin Folan that popped out of the basket. Great Game tho. Check out the exclusive Highlights from EENERSports ENJOY!!!

  9. Irishpride says:

    It’s coaching also. Talent can only go so far and before coaching kicks in. SH seems to lose games that are close because their coaching goes in the can at the most crucial moments. SI wasnt lucky I believe that’s SH’s motto, SI came to play and execute their game plan, SH didn’t. Missing 11 free throws is a mental lapse. Fox would never had succumb to that pressure at St. Mary’s under Marty. Barbour should be mad and fired up over this lost but his comments show what an outsider he still is regarding this rivalry between the schools. Again SH is getting it’s talent pool from the Rebels and still haven’t done much with it. Yeah they won a Div 3 title a few years ago but for all the ‘talent’ that they have had if should have been more. They should have hired Forslund, he is a coach. Let’s see what they can do when they play Mitty, Bellermine, Serra, St. Francis. Teams that have coaches who coach and players not relying on just talent to get by.

  10. Roll Cats says:

    E.J. Silvia willed the Cats to victory last night! Congratulations to a great player and an even better person coming off a few tough games. The Irish had no answer for E.J. in either of their post defenders. Yes Fox and Johns will probably play college basketball, but last night neither of them had an answer for E.J. Hopefully the Cats can build off of this great win.

  11. SprideF says:

    well they play Mitty tomorrow, so we’ll see. I doubt it though

  12. Johnny Drama says:

    @irishpride said: Fox would never had succumb to that pressure at St. Mary’s under Marty. This is quite an unbelievable statement. There is a HUGE difference playing in front of 5000 fans in the most intense rivalry in the WCAL and possibly the west coast than playing at St Mary’s gym in front of your parents against an out matched asian league team. Apples and Oranges my friend! This SHC team is good but not great. The WCAL is down with the exception of Mitty. I do not think this was an upset as both teams were fairly evenly matched. Mrlik was the best player on the court last night so the right team won. With 4 starters returning next year, SHC will be competitive as will SI with Domingo only a sophomore and a pretty talented frosh guard. The Cats have dominated the Bruce over the past two decades so it can’t all be Barbour’s fault! Maybe they need new coaches in all sports…….

  13. Anonymous says:

    When SH win its all good, but when they lose its atuomatically bad coaching?

  14. Irishpride says:

    @Johnnydrama: When I said it was a mental laspe it had nothing to do with Fox playing against overmatch teams in a park n rec gym. It was just that having a mental lapse at a cruical time in a game, something that his former coach stressed. When your tired, fatigued and the game is on the line don’t choke. So are you saying that since there was a big crowd that it is excusable to tank at the free throw line? What about when he is in college or better yet next year at the Bruce. I don’t care whether you are playing in front of 500, 1500, 5000, or 50,000 people, at crunch time mental toughness and being prepared is what it is all about. The rivalry is so intense that SI has either beaten SH or push them to the limit in but a few games that were one with double digits. Heck even when SH wins the coaching hasn’t being on par with the level of talent that the team has.

  15. IC Stars says:

    IrishPride, I can agree to a degree about SHC’s coach, but his team did win a WCAL co-title, CCS, NorCal and a State title, so you can’t say he’s a bad coach but he does need to manage a game better. I was surprised at some of the mass-substitutions he was making.

    The first half showed the team wasn’t prepared. I don’t know why these guys can’t be focused on executing their plays. The way they played in the third quarter should be the norm.

    Year after year, they always put so much pressure on themselves in this game instead of exuding confidence. It says IRISH on the front of that jersey for a reason. You’ll note that they’ve won the second league contest numerous times.

  16. Johnny Drama says:

    @irishpride..I hear what you’re saying. Maybe the kid just can’t shoot free throws, after all, he is a post player. If this Marty guy truly taught mental toughness, Fox would still have it, as it can’t be turned off and on, you either have it or you don’t. SI’s basketball coach is no superstar either but sometimes it’s not about having the best kids on the floor, it’s about getting them to play as a cohesive unit so I see your point about coaching. As far as the talent pool from the Rebels, this is maybe why the team is a run-n-gun type and struggle in the halfcourt set. High School and AAU ball are night and day as you are aware. You do bring up valid points and I agree with a lot of what you are saying. SHC has had the most talent recently and it took 4 years for that vaunted group to win a state title.

  17. Vincent Chace says:

    @IrishPride – You similarly commented on the girl’s article that SH is getting their talent pool from a specific club team source (i.e. MRC and SF Rebels). Is there a reason you press on the subject? I can guarantee you that ALL WCAL teams have club level players in their program, however, coaches need to tweak with the combination of players they have to work with. Non club level and club level players. Talent is absolutely a key factor to a successful program. It’s a 50/50 combination/relationship my friend: 50% player and 50% coaching. Coach Barbour did the best he could with his team. Can’t say the same for the girls’ basketball coach – he obviously has a talented bench and doesn’t know what to do with them. Two prime examples of what SH coaching has to offer. The good and the bad. Congratulations to SI – they played a clean, aggressive and fun game. Go Irish.

  18. IrishAlum says:

    If SHC went to the post instead of going 5 out the game would not have been close. Domingo is a great young player and had some nice blocks but is not strong enough to go through an entire game guarding Fox or Johns in the post. At the end he was getting thrown around and beat up. SI deserved that win but don’t berate Barbour, he is a State Title winning coach. Last year SHC won the basketball Bruce-Mahoney on some clutch freethrows from the older Fox, so maybe some players do have mental toughness from Barbour. Barbour has won the CCS championship 2/3 times been to Norcal Finals twice and won State once, IN 3 YEARS.

  19. SF Prep Fan says:

    I agree with IrishAlum. Barbour is a very good coach and I believe his good coaching kept the game close. This year, SI has quite a bit more talent than SH. SI is bigger, deeper and they shoot and pass better than SH. SH is faster and more athletic but they were unable to force turnovers with their press, which I believe will be important for SH to beat SI this year. Through some of the game, SI’s smallest player was 6′ 3″ (Mrlik) with the off guard at 6′ 4″ (Johnson) and the small forward at 6′ 7″ (Domingo), all three of whom shoot extremely well – watch them in warm up. If you get by the three, then you face a ‘Ron Artest type’ defensive stopper in Silva or must elevate over 6′ 7″ Collins. SI has two very good point guards and a very solid backup center to add to the mix. Defensively, SI’s length presents a tough match up as Mitty found out last night. The WCAL’s best player and probably best post player in Northern California, Aaron Gordon, struggled against SI’s interior defense. Only Mitty is faster than SH and they were not able to force turnovers until the 4th quarter. So from my perspective, I thought Barbour has done a great job with his team this year and he is the main reason the game was close.

  20. Ava says:

    Irish choked. Just like they always do. It’s unfortunate that they can’t seem to be able to pull it together. They’re an extremely talented team. Nice game, Wildcats.

  21. IC Stars says:

    “well they play Mitty tomorrow, so we’ll see. I doubt it though”. Sure, SI beat Mitty, then SHC loses to Mitty (at Mitty…) then after SHC beats St. Francis by 26 points, the Lancers send SI back to the cat box with a 69-53 win…. The only thing we know for sure in this league is that Valley Christian is in the cellar after losing to Riordan 54-35.

  22. sh , you phony. says:

    HA, in youre face. Wildcats beat Mitty (:
    You might wana recheck that doubt of yours , SprideF.

  23. SprideF says:

    yea well they’ll play them again. so we’ll see then. Mitty lost that game because of their poor free throw shooting. And what happened against St Francis??? (a team sh destroyed)

    and i personally don’t think either of the coaches are good or bad, sh does seem to get more out of their talent though. when sh made their run si lacked a true point guard. mrlick and johnson were in, to me neither of those players is a true PG. Yet on the bench si has quintana and waters who both proved themselves as being able to bring the ball up.

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