Boys Basketball: St. Ignatius shocks Mitty to get back in WCAL race

By Bonta Hill

Coming into the week, things were looking a lot like last season, as St. Ignatius started league play with losses to Bellarmine and Serra.

With the daunting task of playing league favorites Sacred Heart Cathedral and Archbishop Mitty, many expected the Wildcats to drop to 0-4 in the West Catholic Athletic League.

The memo didn’t get over to St. Ignatius (10-4, 2-2), however, as they’ve lifted themselves back into the league race with a stunning 46-39 win over visiting Mitty (12-2, 3-1) on Thursday.

Johnny Mrlik continued his solid play in big games, leading the Wildcats with 16 points, and Stephen Domingo added 15, as St. Ignatius survived this physical and grinding game that saw bodies flying all night long.

“Our guys were still riding high from [the Bruce-Mahoney win over Sacred Heart], and they’re riding high in terms of confidence,” said St. Ignatius head coach John DeBenedetti. “Not overconfidence, not just too busy saying, ‘Wow Tuesday’s win was great,’ but it was more of, ‘We can do this, we can get better’ and these guys are really starting to believe in themselves.”

Mitty came into the game as one the top-ranked teams in the state, but after jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the opening moments of the game, they struggled offensively.

A lot of that had to do with the Wildcats defense, as they held the Monarchs to a season-low in points, and held them to 33 percent shooting from the floor. Mitty beat themselves from the free throw line as well, shooting a paltry 6-of-20.

“All these teams in the WCAL are great defensive teams and historically this league has been about defense and we’re trying to replicate the teams in the past that have been defensive stoppers,” Mrlik said. “We said coming in that if we hold them to under 40 points, we’ll win. We did just that.”

Offensively, St. Ignatius wasn’t great either, especially in the first half, where they shot 25 percent from the floor, yet they only found themselves down 20-18 at halftime.

But after the break, the Wildcats came out soaring, as Domingo scored St. Ignatius’s first seven points in the third quarter and the Wildcats went on an 18-2 run that saw them jump to a 36-24 lead.

The Monarchs became unglued in the third frame as they went over six minutes of game time without a point, and shot 3-for-10 overall in the quarter.

“We got out of our rhythm in [the third quarter], but that had a lot to do with St. Ignatius,” said Mitty head coach Tim Kennedy. “We had some open looks, but not the best ball movement we’ve had this season. I thought we lost our poise a little bit with some of the calls on the floor, and we talked about controlling what we could control. We didn’t keep our focus and we weren’t ready to go.”

Mitty had one final surge though, as Kyle Toth, who led Mitty with 17 points, tried to will the Monarchs back in the fourth quarter. Mitty would cut the Wildcats lead to five points on three different occasions, but St. Ignatius held on.

The Wildcats committed seven turnovers in the final frame, but went 6-for-8 at the free throw line in the closing moments to seal the upset.

Mitty standout sophomore Aaron Gordon was held to seven points, including a night he’d like to forget at the free throw line, where he hit 1-of-12 attempts.

After starting 0-2, the Wildcats have risen back into the conversation in the WCAL on the strength of their defense.

“We knew that if we came out here and hit them in the mouth first, we knew that we could hang with them,” Domingo said. “The coaching staff has made defense a cornerstone of this team and we’ve bought into it were trying to ride it as far as we can. People have been underestimating us but I think this team can do big things if we can play defense.”

Scoring Leaders

St. Ignatius
Johnny Mrlik – 16
Stephen Domingo – 15
Nick Johnson – 5
Antonio Aguilar – 4
Mat Collins – 4

Kyle Toth – 17
Aaron Gordon – 7
Colin Wan – 7
Neil Vranicar – 3
Two tied with 2 points

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  1. IC Stars says:

    “Mitty beat themselves from the free throw line as well, shooting a paltry 6-of-20”. That says it all.

  2. hamburgler says:

    friese is watching you gordon

  3. Halley Berry says:

    DOG HOUSE won the game

  4. Johnny Drama says:

    IC Stars…you never cease to amaze me….let me clarify……SI BEAT MITTY, JUST LIKE THEY BEAT SHC. To put this in perspective, 2 years ago when SHC won back the Bruce after a DECADE, there was a huge diatribe on various boards. This year, quiet as a mouse! Why, because SI folks expect to win and when we don’t, we congratulate the opponent and move on. We don’t cry and make excuses like the SHC folks do. Give the kids their due and do not denigrate their accomplishments. Maybe we”ll throw you a bone next year……only if you’re good.

  5. Roll Cats says:

    No doubt the Dog House got in Aaron Gordon’s head all night. A top ranked team should not let a student section affect the demeanor of its players, especially that of St. Ignatius which struggles to scrap fans together anyways. As a spectator, Mitty’s players let the refs, the students, and the surroundings get to their head all before St. Ignatius rolled out stellar defense and a pretty good offensive attack in the second half. Congratulations to the Wildcats who proved they can win on any given night and that they deserve respect in the rugged WCAL. Its also great to see the players buying into what the coaches are telling them.

  6. Ari Gold says:

    All teams and schools go through cycles. In the 80s it was Riordan, late 80s SI, early 90s Serra, mid 90s SHC/SI, late 90s Bellarmine, early 00s Serra/Bellarmine, mid 00s Mitty, late 00s SHC/St. Francis. Yah so teams go through rough times. This isnt De La Salle where they are good every single year no matter what.
    Fact is this league produces alot of CCS and NCS champs and an occasional State champ. Anyone can be beaten on any night during league.

    Irish til I die. Im so over the Bruce Mahoney. SI can have it for all I care. SHC goes for CCS, NCS, and State titles. In fact I wont recognize that trophy until they update the games. Both schools have been co-ed for over 20 years now. Time to make it a co-ed award. Mens- Football, 1st Bball game, 1st Baseball game, Womens- 1st Vball game, and 1st Bball game. Best of 5.

  7. Johnny Drama says:

    Womens’ sports are for light entertainment.You don’t recognize it cuz you aint seen it in a while :)

  8. #10 Mit says:

    The Dog House was to strong for Mitty

  9. sour patch kid says:

    @Roll Cats. Agree that Wilcats are looking good. Good defensive play has kept them in games against tough opponents. The coaches deserve credit for the defense, but what are they running on offense?!?! Three great shooters on the team (Mrlik, Domingo, Johnson) and tough big men (Silvia, Aguilar, Collins) [see SF Prep Fan posting on the Bruce] – but NO apparent offensive strategy to make the most of this combination.

    Happy for the SI wins this week, but will be a long road ahead without some adjustment to make the most of this.

  10. Roll Cats says:

    @sour patch kid. The great defensive efforts that have kept the Cats in games throughout the season ended last night against a St. Francis team that shot and made perimeter shots at will. Hopefully, this was just an off night. The Wildcats have made their mark as a defensive team this year, but someone other than Mrlik has to step up on the offensive end if they want to remain competitive against WCAL opponents. Other than getting the ball to Mrlik (i think he had 27 against St. Francis) the offense needs to figure something out to get other players involved.

    On another note, the 7 points in the 4th quarter last night from Kevin O’Connor left the people in the stands wondering who this kid is and why he doesn’t play more.

  11. sour patch kid says:

    @Roll Cats Definitely agree. A team with talent cannot run offense just through one man and expect to keep winning in the wcal. hopefully coaches will adapt.

  12. al leonard says:

    Nice to see SI rebound from last year (2-12 in league play). As always, WCAL very competitive. In current CCS polls, WCAL has half of top 10 teams. With the possible exception of Valley Christian, any of these teams can beat one another on any given date.

  13. IC Stars says:

    Dream on, Drama. Ari Gold has a point. Expand the competition to include women’s hoops and volleyball. It should also include the second basketball and baseball games. Add that up and Sacred Heart Cathedral puts the cats back in their litter box.

  14. Johnny Drama says:

    Come on IC….if the pressure of the BM hung over ALL those games, SHC would choke more often and thus you’re records would be worse. Using your analogy, I guess the Irish are shipped back to Ireland 17 out of 20 years. It appears those kids can only play when there is no pressure. Even the million dollar purchase class of 2009 only won ONE BM trophy. CAN YOU SMELL WHAT THE CATS ARE COOKING!!!!!

  15. SF Prep Fan says:

    Sour patch kid I think you hit the nail on the head. While I didn’t see the St. Francis game, I agree with you that SI has no offensive strategy. No open shots are created by their flex offense which keeps the ball 25-30 feet away from the basket. When defense extends itself with good athletes, SI offense bogs down — only Mrlik can consistently create his own shot and why his scoring is up against good defenses. I saw the Mitty game and there was one on-ball screen set the entire game (result was 3 point basket by Mrlik). No on-ball screens were set against SH to free any shooter. SI point guards are required to bring up the ball without screens or any help and they seem to be required to look at the coach rather than push for transition shots. SI coaches are in the stone age. Watch how Serra runs their offense, mixing on-ball and away screens to create many open shots — and their rebounds go to outlets who push for transition buckets. Hopefully, SH pays attention and extends their defense next game as they have the athletes to frustrate SI’s ill-conceived offense as St. Francis likely did.

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