Boys Basketball: St. Ignatius surges late to beat Riordan in CCS quarterfinals

St. Ignatius senior guard Luke Pappas eyes Riordan guard D.J. Harvey on Saturday at St. Ignatius Prep. (Photo by Doug Ko)

By Jeremy Balan

Archbishop Riordan High School supporters shouldn’t be surprised with the visiting Crusaders’ 60-53 loss to St. Ignatius in the CIF-Central Coast Section Division III quarterfinals on Saturday. The loss was indicative of their entire season — close, but not enough.

The Crusaders (9-18) actually carried a 38-33 lead into the fourth quarter, but it was a spark from an unlikely source that allowed the Wildcats (17-9) to outscore Riordan 27-15 and pull away steadily in the final frame.

St. Ignatius sophomore forward Stephen Domingo rises for a fall-away jumper against Riordan on Saturday at St. Ignatius Prep. (Photo by Doug Ko)

The spark came from senior guard Luke Pappas, who had all of his eight points in the crucial fourth on 3-of-3 shooting from the floor, including two three-pointers.

“I just did what I could to help the team,” Pappas said. “For the seniors, that could have been our last half of basketball, so I just tried to bring energy off the bench.”

While Pappas’ late input may have been the difference, the undisputed star, as he has been all year for the Wildcats, was senior guard Johnny Mrlik, who had a game-high 23 points to go along with a team-high 12 rebounds.

Mrlik and sophomore forward Stephen Domingo each had seven points in the final quarter, exploiting the Riordan defense that held down the Wildcats for the first three quarters.

When the Crusader defense would go to man-to-man, Domingo’s 6-foo-7 frame provided a mismatch against any Riordan defender, and when they went to zone, Mrlik picked apart the defense from behind the three-point arc.

The offense flowed freely in the fourth quarter, and came to an explosive head midway through the frame, when Domingo converted a steal into a breakaway two-handed dunk.

“They had some success early on [stopping Mrlik], but we needed other guys to step up and they did just that,” said St. Ignatius head coach John DeBenedetti. “They pushed us to the limit tonight and when you play someone three times in a year, there aren’t many surprises. I don’t know if we lucked out in the end or pulled it out, but it’s a win and we’re happy to move on to Wednesday.”

Mrlik was the most consistent scorer on the floor, but it was a defensive play right before the half that may have swung the momentum of the entire game. Early on Riordan senior guard Aaron Anderson locked down Mrlik with a tight man defense, but on a fast-break opportunity with just over three minutes remaining in the half, Anderson was called for a charge, taken by Mrlik, that gave him his third foul.

“I just didn’t want him to dunk on me. I just tried to take it so he wouldn’t jump over me,” Mrlik said. “I think his shins hit my face, so that shows the kind of athleticism he’s got right there.”

The foul pulled Anderson out of the game, and altered the way he played defense the rest of the game. It also drew the scorn of the Riordan crowd and head coach Rich Buckner.

“It was a questionable call,” Buckner said. “That’s a block or a no call in my estimation. With Johnny standing practically underneath the basket, Aaron had already released the ball. I thought that was one that they missed and it was a momentum changer.”

Anderson, Riordan’s senior leader all season, still finished with a team-high 14 points in his final high school game.

“It’s going to be really tough to see him go,” Buckner said. “You see how we play when he’s not in the game. We’re a much better team with him out there. I’ve had him for three years, so from a personal point of view I’m sad to see him go, and from a basketball standpoint, we’re going to have to find someone to make up for his production.”

For the Wildcats, the season lives on, with third seed Burlingame up next in the semifinals. St. Ignatius bested the Burlingame 49-47 in the Sand Dune tournament championship game in December, but the Wildcats are also hoping for another shot at rival and top-seeded Sacred Heart Cathedral, which will play Aptos in the other semifinal.

“When we lost to Bellarmine [in the first round of the West Catholic Athletic League] playoffs, we knew it would set up this way, with [Sacred Heart] lining up with us in the final,” Pappas said. “We’re looking forward to it, but we’ve got to take care of Burlingame first.”

Scoring Leaders

St. Ignatius
Johnny Mrlik – 23
Stephen Domingo – 14
Luke Pappas – 8
Antonio Aguilar – 6
Two players tied with 3 points

Riordan
Aaron Anderson – 14
Graham Gilleran – 12
Brandon Edison – 9
D.J. Harvey – 8
Jordan Dougherty – 6

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21 Comments

  1. Johnny Drama says:

    Let me start off by saying I was off base about a 20 point win and quite frankly, we dodged a bullet in this game. This game is indicative of how bad our coaching is but also a testament to the heart and soul of the young men if SI. These kids know how to play ON THEIR OWN and basically won this game on talent and instinct alone. Mrlik was terriffic! You replace Mrlik with Springwater and SI loses this game. Mrlik creates his own shot much better than Noah, who is primarily a spot up shooter IMO. Big 3 point shots in the 4th Q sealed the deal. Unfortunately, coach will probably keep his job because the players will allow him to keep his job if they keep winning.

    I’d be remiss if I did not give ARHS much credit on a very well played and well coached game. This was the first time I had the opportunity to observe Buckner and he is a very underrated coach If you look at the discrepancy in talent they had relative to SI, this game should have been a 20 point win for the cats. Buckner was very passionate, at one point encouraging the crowd to cheer his kids as they went into the locker room with a halftime lead. I’ve read other posts indicating he is one of the best young coaches in the area, which I’ve always dismissed as “homerism”. I would have to concur with that statement after seeing him. He made the right calls and it was his leadership that kept Riordan in the game until the final minutes. The game was much closer that a 7 point victory.

    Good luck to the CATS against Burl. Play your game and you can beat them again.

  2. WCAL FAN says:

    I am an impartial observer, just a fan of WCAL athletics. This was a great game, much better than most thought. One glaring weakness was the presence of only 2 CCS officials. WCAL games have 3 officials at all times, but for whatever reasons, CCS games have only 2. Unfortunately, this seemed to hurt the Crusaders more than the Wildcats. The one example is the one cited in this article. I was sitting on the basket side in the front row when this play occurred. The SI player was underneath the rim, this is not an exaggeration. From my vantage point, it appeared the Riordan player had released the ball when contact occurred. The article fails to mention that the shot went in and on the ensuing possession, SI scored. This was a potential 5 point swing if the correct call was made. This was #5″s 3rd foul and he wasn’t as aggressive for the remainder of the game. He also sat for stretches of the game after that causing the Riordan offense to stall at times. I will go out on a limb here and say that Riordan wins if the block is called rather than the charge, but hey, calls happen. There was also an ugly exchange when an SI player, out of frustration, threw the ball at the referee. A warning was issued when a T was in order. My gut tells me if that had been a Riordan player, a T would have been called. Again, this is just a hunch on my part based on who the SI player was and where the game was being payed.

    A hard fought victory for SI that undoubtedly prepares them for their next opponent. Good luck to SI.

    Also, SHC looked great!!! They will be a tough out and don’t see anybody left who can beat them at this stage. They have the edge over the winner of SI-Burlingame in my opinion.

  3. Jordan24 says:

    Way to play with heart and intensity Crusaders! Congrats to the team and Coach Buckner.
    Best of luck to SHC and SI in the next round(s).

  4. Anonymous says:

    @Johnny D as an SI cat fan i just hope SI boys basketball team will have a new coach by next year, otherwise there will be a lot of wasted talent in th basketball team next year. I wish the SI athletic dept.
    will come to their senses and replace the incumbent coach which i think for the last 3 years have been
    very disappointing. It is true the SI boys played their butts off to win in this game. I just hope they will win their next game not to save their’s coach’s job but for themselves.Their win-loss record does not actually
    reflect the real talent , and skill of the team with better coaching they could have won more. The 1st round
    WCAL playoff game showed that in a close game good coaching matters, and they were not coached to win that game.

  5. Wildcat Alum says:

    The SI coaching is terrible. Mrlik and Domingo have been carrying this team all year without any on ball screens or set plays. They basically play pick up and take their defenders on. They had enough talent to win WCAL, but coaching let them down. I hope to see a coaching change next season regardless of CCS outcome. I wish the Wildcats the best of luck in CCS. GO CATS

  6. Cat Supporter says:

    WCAL Fan – you are most certainly not an impartial observer to suggest that Riordan lost because of the refs. Yes I agree the block should have been called versus a charge and a “T” should have been called on Mrlik. I was on the floor on that play and he was pushed out of bounds by #5 and no foul was called. The play prior he was pushed to the floor by #5 and no foul was called. The possession prior he was tripped so blattantly that the Riordan player who tripped him had to come out of the game because the leg he stuck out to trip him with was in such pain. Again, no foul was called. On a defensive rebound, Mrlik was smashed in the face and to the ground and no foul was called on Riordan. SI would have been the beneficiary of 3 refs as many of these fouls would have been called. Credit Coach Buckner on a solid game plan which was well executed by his players. Riordan played a great game and did not lose this game — they were beaten, not by the referees, but by SI’s clutch 3 point shooting in the 4th quarter (5 of 6). While the refs may have missed calls, they didn’t determine the outcome of the game, the kids did on the floor and the kids gave us a great performance.

  7. Anonymous says:

    SI won that game because they fought hard, not because of the refs.

  8. City Lights says:

    Great game. I have to agree with most of the stuff posted. Buckner had a team with so much less talent it was funny poised to win this one until SI’s 4th-5th option banked in a three pointer in when SI was down by like 5-6 in the fourth Q. The SI coaches barely played the most huge dominating dude on their team, Aguilar. The same dude that was the reason they beat Riordan last time they played. Crazy.

    The refs were “letting them play” to be friendly. The fouls were like 6-1 in SI’s favor until the refs looked up at the scoreboard with a few minutes left and started evening it out late to save face.

    Papass came up big. Riordan band and crowd was electric. Good stuff in the City. SHC looked like a machine. Watched all four games. All non-WCAL teams looked terrible. Next round will have the “yearly” BHS-SI semi. Should be awesome. SHC will stomp Aptos .

  9. WCAL FAN says:

    Cat Supporter, the refs were letting the kids play. The dirtiest player was the little PG number 24 for SI. He was smirking at the Riordan bench because he got away with several cheap shots at a Riordan player. Both teams were taking shots that weren’t called so those were neutralized. The 2 incidents I mentioned, you also agree with me they should have been called. Those were blatant calls that went against Riordan. For you to suggest that only Mrlik took shots that weren’t called, well, I guess your name says it all. At one point, it was 6 fouls to 1 in favor of SI so they were allowed to “get away” with more non calls than Riordan. Yes SI made clutch threes but to say the foul on 5 did not impact the game is completely off base. A charge, which you agree is the right call, would have completely changed the landscape of the game. I expect an SI fan to stand by their team but let’s be realistic as well. Those 2 non calls did impact the game.

  10. Roll Cats says:

    Congratulations to the Wildcat players who fought hard and willed themselves to victory. They simply do not let erratic substitutions or their offensive scheme get in the way of their talent and guys like Mrlik and Silvia have given the Cats critical senior leadership throughout the year. Though Aguilar played very few minutes, he made his presence felt and dominated Riordan while he was in the game on both ends of the floor and he made the most out of his minutes. Mrlik played like his typical self and there was no denying he was the best player on the court yesterday. The Cats can be a very fun team to watch and have the ability to score in bunches which occurred in the 4th quarter yesterday. I disagree with the statement that all non-WCAL teams looked terrible as Burlingame (saw all 4 games as well) showed good ball movement and played with a ton of confidence. They have won 16 in a row, but the Cats are much more battle tested so this provides for an intriguing match-up.

    On another note, congratulations to Coach Buckner and his staff who routinely get the most out of their talent and inspire their players so that they play with the belief that they will win. In high school, much of the game comes down to confidence and Riordan plays with an all-out attitude that demonstrates their competitive spirit. These boys have nothing to be ashamed about. Good luck to the Cats and hopefully we can get a 3rd match-up with SH!

  11. Cats! says:

    All this talk of non calls and missed calls affecting the outcome of the game is ridiculous! The referees shafted both teams equally. Yes, there was a discrepancy in fouls in the fourth quarter. But Riordan got away with A LOT of blatant fouls on the shooter earlier in the game. In my eyes, the referees were making up for that. It’s obvious that the better team won last night; the Cats were down, but eventually found a way to win. SI might not have dominated, but the mark of a good team is that they find ways to win

  12. WCAL Alum says:

    As a true objective observer (no affiliation with either school). SI did get the best of calls. the offensive charge should have been a no-call (at least) was one of many going against Riordan. It was a game that Riordan played its best and took advantage of a stale SI performance. However, Mrlik did come up big in 4th, but the Pappas kid WAS the difference. He ended up playing the same role that Silva played in the Bruce-Mahoney game – dont let the main players beat you and hope that a role player doesnt get hot.. Cats were fortunate to get out with win. Was impressed with Riordan boosters as SI booster only came alive in last half of 4th quarter.

    As for SHC dominating their game – what game were people watching. They were as horrible in this game in the first half, as they were against Serra a couple weeks ago. through attrician, they prevailed as Jefferson got tired in second half.

  13. SF_Mikey says:

    First off I am a Riordan supporter. Overall the officiating was pretty bad for both sides and as others have noted the fact that the CCS only uses two referees while the WCAL uses three is a good point. There were many missed calls both ways and a few of them were pretty obvious no brainers! The Crusaders beat up Mrlik pretty good the first half without many (any) fouls being called against them but got the shaft in the second half with the majority of the calls going against them.

    It was a very exciting game with the Riordan band and crowd really into it. The Crusaders played their hearts out (kudos to Coach Buckner) but came up short especially with Anderson on the bench in foul trouble. It was my first time seeing Mrlik play and that guy is the real deal as is Domingo.

    This is my first year of watching WCAL basketball and have I ever been impressed by the physicality and overall high level of play. Good luck to both SI and SHC meeting in the finals.

  14. Ari Gold says:

    I saw the first three games. SH imposed their style and Jefferson just doesnt have the horses to run the track. It was fun watching Taylor Johns just go for blocks on breakaway layups.

    The 2nd game I swear was just a snoozer. I liked last years Mills team that beat SI with 3 short chinese kids. This year not so much luck. Okay, who let one of the dads on Burlingame’s team? the center are you kidding me? Did he flunk 6th grade 5 times? The guy is so old!

    The SI / RIordan game was a good one. Of course I watched the ballhog huck up shots from 25 feet. I saw him get a no foul call and fired the ball at the ref. I saw him mouth off to some fans in the 4th quarter. Yah really classy guy. Is that what they teach you at SI? Riordan put up a good fight. Anderson couldnt play as aggressive with the refs giving SI all the calls. That charge was bogus. How do you call a charge when the guy is standing right underneath the basket??? Terrible call and that changed the game.

  15. JJ says:

    @Ari Gold

    When Mills beat SI last year, the Chinese guy hitting all the 3-pointers for Mills was tall, probably at least 6-4. He probably hit at least 8 3-pointers, but to say he was short is a lie.

    And I agree with the other people on here — that the SI coach should be replaced. Who is the 3rd string point guard for SI, #15? He’s not that good. He kept turning the ball over, that’s how Riordan got a 6 pt lead in the 4th quarter. Matt Collins for SI is a great rebounder and plays excellent D, and he didn’t play that much in the 2nd half, but for whatever reason #15 played alot. SI has a very solid team but they will have their hands full if they play SHC for the championship, because their coach isn’t that good.

  16. Basketball Fan says:

    Riordan fans and band was awesome. I love the schools spirit and they support thier team win or lose.

  17. SF Prep Fan says:

    @Ari Gold If you are going to address how ‘classy’ a player is or isn’t, I suggest you begin to show some class in your comments. I watch the same 16, 17 and 18 year old kids play as you, I played D1 basketball, and I truly appreciate their efforts — you, however, choose to consistently put these kids down. If your life is so bad that you resort to hiding behind this forum and lob insults at kids, I suggest you get some help and let the kids be.

    The SI Riordan game was outstanding, particularly Riordan’s play. They played a terrific game and almost beat a more talented team at every position (except AA who should have been 1rst team WCAL). The bad call (which technically was a charge but the player was almost under the basket and should have been a no-call) you referenced happened in the 2nd quarter. The player who you refer to as a ball hog, was getting blatantly fouled throughout the 1rst & 2nd quarter, several of the noncalls were as bad as the charge that was called. But one bad call in the 1rst and 2nd quarter doesn’t change the outcome of games for teams that deserve to win — close games are won in the 4th quarter. Riordan certainly didn’t quit and fought to the end with tremendous class (which Ari Gold has none). Great coaching by Buckner and great performance by his kids — might have been the best 4th quarter of the year as both teams made big shots, but SI’s 5 for 6 3 pt shooting in the quarter was the difference.

  18. Purple says:

    SI made the clutch shots and got some key points off of turnovers in the final period. That’s why they won.

    I’m a Riordan alum and as disheartening it is to lose to anyone let alone a City rival, the school’s pride and spirit as evidenced through the team’s players, coaches, parents, students and band were a story in and of itself.

    The wins and losses on Phelan haven’t been in the school’s favor as of late. However there are a ton of measureable and quantifiable victories not taking place on the fields and courts. And the intangibles such as the tremendous effort and support displayed by the school community last Saturday is very noteworthy.

  19. Johnny Drama says:

    @Purple..very classy post. I said in an earlier thread that I was very impressed with the Riordan boosters after the last Riordan vs SI game at the Crusader Forum. I must say that they travel well as they were very well represented and, as embarrassing as this is to say, they had a larger contingent than we did at our place!

  20. SI Cats says:

    Nice SI win v. Riordan. Cats v. Burlingame should be a good one. Burlingame is a WCAL caliber team that played SI very tough during Sand Dune back in December. Burlingame plays tough ‘D’ and does not rattle easy. Good outside shooters. SI needs to get ball down low and attack this team or they could easily lose.

  21. MrHARD says:

    Does anyone notice the short asian kid at the end of the bench??/

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