By Ernest Stone
Tied at 52-52 with 2:53 left to play in regulation, St. Ignatius broke from a timeout with the task of taking back control of a game that, just two quarters earlier, they began to dominate.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, current West Catholic Athletic League leading scorer Johnny Mrlik’s three-point shot just two seconds later established a 55-52 lead, one which they would maintain to defeat league foe Bellarmine 59-56 and remain undefeated at home.
“Confidence plays a big part in everyone’s game,” said Mrlik, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “It’s one of those shots that you work on in practice, and seeing that it was open, I knew I had to take it.”
During the first half, it looked as if the game was well in hand for the Wildcats (14-5, 6-3), who, after falling behind 10-4 during the opening stages of the game, stormed back to enter the second half with a 32-25 lead.
St. Ignatius’ first-half success was due in large part to its size and ability to create second chances off of misses, with forwards E.J. Silvia and Stephen Domingo exposing the Bells’ lack of an inside presence.
“The second quarter is where they really won that game,” said Bellarmine head coach Patrick Schneider. “Everyone on their team played fantastic games, and their mixing up of their defenses gave us trouble.”
For a six minute stretch that spanned from the end of the first quarter through the first five minutes of the second quarter, Bellarmine (10-8, 3-5) mustered only two points on just four shot attempts.
Yet just as Bellarmine was unable to utilize its big men to establish a stronghold on the inside, Bells two-sport athlete Kristoffer Olugbode was able to grab seven rebounds from the point guard position.
Olugbode’s production, combined with timely shots from teammates Alex Chapman and Grant Vermeer, sparked a second-half push from the Bells, who reclaimed their first lead since the first quarter when they went ahead 50-48 with 4:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately for Bellarmine, St. Ignatius utilized its substantial home-court advantage to tie the game back up and cue Mrlik’s clutch three-point shot.
“There is something special going on here this year,” said St. Ignatius head coach John DeBenedetti. “Our games have become a school-wide event, and when you have home-court advantage like this it’s huge.”
Bellarmine’s inability to send the game to overtime sealed yet another close loss for the Bells, who have lost five games by four points or less this season.
For the Wildcats, home games have been a lock thanks to an enthusiastic student body, yet for Mrlik, the home-court success is only a part of the big picture.
“We’ve had our troubles on the road this year,” Mrlik said. “But our success this year, and to be a part of what’s going on feels good, and we’ll just have to try and get a few teams at their place.”
Johnny Mrlik – 23
E.J. Silvia – 12
Stephen Domingo – 10
Mat Collins – 5
Antonio Aguilar – 4
Kristoffer Olugbode – 14
Grant Vermeer – 12
Alex Chapman – 10
Nick McCue – 8
Three players tied with 2 points