By Jeremy Balan
After playing its best stretch of basketball all year, visiting Archbishop Riordan High School had a 18-14 lead midway through the second quarter over favored St. Ignatius on Wednesday.
But then the Crusaders went cold — ice cold.
They would not score another point in the half, and St. Ignatius went on a 13-0 run to take a 27-18 lead into the break, before cruising to a 54-38 West Catholic Athletic League win.
The Crusaders (7-9, 1-5) would continue to struggle in the third quarter, scoring only six points, and allowed St. Ignatius to open up a 37-24 lead heading into the fourth. Riordan shot just over 26 percent from the field in the game, including just over 12 percent from three-point range.
“I haven’t seen a cold spell like that, except when I’m shooting on Sundays in open gym,” said Riordan head coach Rich Buckner. “We know shooting is a weakness of ours, so we try to work on it every single day, and I know the kids are frustrated, because we haven’t seen the results yet.”
While Riordan struggled to hit open shots, a lot of its offensive woes had to do with another impressive performance by the St. Ignatius (11-5, 3-3) defense, which switched seemingly at random from zone to man-to-man to confuse the Riordan attack.
“We did a great job of keeping them off balance,” said St. Ignatius head coach John DeBenedetti. “Part of it was us closing out and part of it was them not shooting well. You put that together, and they’re not going to score and we can go on a run.”
Leading all scorers was St. Ignatius senior guard Johnny Mrlik, who extended a streak of double-digit scoring performances with an efficient and effective 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Mrlik shot 4-of-7 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from three-point range, and shot 10-of-10 from the free throw line.
“This year, I’m definitely going to the basket more and creating more opportunities at the line,” Mrlik said. “I shoot 50 [free throws] a night and I expect to make 95 percent of them. If you spend that much time working on it, you expect to make them.”
What was most impressive about Mrlik’s performance was how he made the best of his few opportunities against a tight Riordan man-to-man defense that was specifically designed to limit his influence.
“I’ll take that efficiency any time,” DeBenedetti said. “They were trying to shut him down and that’s going to happen more and more going through league and through this season, because he’s such a dynamic player.”
Sophomore forward Stephen Domingo also had a double-double for the Wildcats, with 12 points and 10 rebounds, but they got a scare from Riordan late, as the Crusaders full-court pressure in the fourth quarter forced six turnovers, allowing them to cut the lead to 42-34 midway through the frame.
But the Wildcats again went on a run (this time 12-4 to end the game) and put the game out of reach.
“My heart was in my throat with that craziness in the fourth quarter,” DeBenedetti said. “They started to turn up the pressure and we’re not used to playing against that type of defense. It was great how we responded though.”
The only Riordan player to finish in double digits in scoring was senior guard Aaron Anderson, who had a team-high 11 points and six rebounds while playing with an illness that caused him to miss school on Tuesday.
During timeouts and breaks in action Anderson was visibly fatigued and left the bench several times to try to shrug off his sickness.
“He shouldn’t have been in school today either, but the only reason he did was to try to tough it out for the game tonight,” Buckner said. “I don’t even know if he was 75 percent. I don’t want to make excuses, but when you don’t have your best player firing on all cylinders, it’s just tough.”
Johnny Mrlik – 21
Stephen Domingo – 12
E.J. Silvia – 10
Albert Waters – 7
Mat Collins – 4
Aaron Anderson – 11
Jordan Dougherty – 6
Anthony Castillo – 5
Three players tied with 4 points