By Bonta Hill
Stepping into a charged-up Crusader Forum with a three game losing streak hanging over its head, St. Ignatius knew it wouldn’t be easy getting back into the win column.
The Wildcats survived a spirited effort from Riordan, however, holding off the Crusaders in a 55-47 win in West Catholic Athletic League play on Thursday.
St. Ignatius (15-8, 7-6) got solid contributions from Stephen Domingo, who had a game-high 21 points to go along with seven rebounds, and Johnny Mrlik, who scored 15 points with five assists, but the 11 points the Wildcats received from forward Antonio Aguilar were the biggest for the Wildcats.
Aguilar’s six points in the final frame gave the Wildcats enough cushion to stave off Riordan’s final rally and taste victory for the first time in two weeks.
“Johnny Mrlik stepped up in the second quarter and got us going, Domingo did a great job and Antonio Aguilar did a fantastic job,” said St. Ignatius head coach John DeBenedetti. “When they put pressure on us, the key was wide open and we did a good job of finding [Aguilar].”
For Riordan (8-15, 2-11), it was another tough defeat, but the Crusaders played with a lot of emotion in front of their home crowd.
Senior guards Aaron Anderson and Brandon Edison, both playing in their final regular season home game for the Crusaders, almost willed their team to victory.
Anderson had a team-high 18 points and Edison added 12 on four three-pointers, including three in the second half, the last cutting the Wildcats lead to 47-45 with 2:49 left in the game, forcing DeBenedetti to call a timeout.
“At that point there we just wanted to break their momentum,” DeBenedetti said. “I told the team we we’re fine, we’re ahead and lets just execute. I thought we responded really well.”
But it wasn’t enough, as the Crusaders couldn’t overcome shooting 35 percent from the floor, dropping their second game to their crosstown rivals.
“My mind was just on winning the game, doing the best I could do,” Anderson said. “I really wish I could have one more year this team. I’m proud of them though, this team is like a family.”
Riordan held its own from the start, leading 12-8 lead early in the second frame, but St. Ignatius then went on an 11-0 run to go up 19-12, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
Mrlik scored the Wildcats last 11 points in the first half, and St. Ignatius shot 57 percent in the first half, but only led 27-21.
Domingo opened the second half on fire, scoring eight points as the Wildcats went up 39-30. The Crusaders would claw their way back into it, going down 39-35 going into the fourth quarter.
Edison sank two consecutive three-pointers to bring Riordan within 41-40, but as it did all game long, St. Ignatius would respond with that pivotal 6-0 run, and the Wildcats headed back to the Sunset with a much-needed win.
“We expected them to come out fired up. It was their senior night and we expected them to play hard all-around,” Aguilar said. “Both teams played great, but I’m glad we pulled it off.”
Riordan head coach Rich Buckner was obviously down after the loss, as he saw his team fall short in another tight contest, something that’s plagued its season.
Although he was proud of the way his team fought throughout, the disappointment of sending his seniors off without a home victory stung afterward.
“We just can’t get over the hump,” Buckner said. “I really wanted this one for the seniors. Of course it’s our crosstown rival and they wanted it. We talked about their losing streak, we talked about the big home crowd, the band, and utilizing all of that for motivation. It worked, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Stephen Domingo – 21
Johnny Mrlik – 15
Antonio Aguilar -11
E.J. Silvia – 4
Albert Waters – 4
Aaron Anderson – 18
Brandon Edison – 12
Graham Gilleran – 6
D.J. Harvey – 6
Jordan Dougherty – 5