By Josh Levine
Behind 15 points and 11 rebounds by senior forward Rodrigo Puliceno, visiting Burlingame High School ended St. Ignatius’ season with a 68-56 win in the CIF-Central Coast Section Division III semifinals on Wednesday.
With the win, the third-seeded Panthers (26-3) advance to the CCS finals on Saturday at Santa Clara University against top-seeded Sacred Heart Cathedral, which dominated Aptos 73-48 in the other semifinal on Wednesday.
“This is a terrible way to end [the season],” said St. Ignatius senior guard Johnny Mrlik, who led the Wildcats with 16 points. “They executed their game plan and we never got back in it. I’ve never had a feeling like this. I don’t know what else to say.”
The 36 points the second-seeded Wildcats (17-10) allowed in the first half was the most any team has put up against St. Ignatius this season.
“Early on we had a lot of defensive breakdowns that led to easy baskets, and when they did drive, they kicked it out and made a lot of key deep shots,” said St. Ignatius head coach John DeBenedetti. “They outplayed us today and we didn’t adjust well. But we kept fighting, especially the seniors late in the fourth.”
Puliceno didn’t have the greatest night shooting from the field, but knocked down 11-of-14 free throws.
“I practice every day with those free throws,” Puliceno said. “Some days I go 2-for-6 or 5-for-8, but I came in today knowing they were going to foul me.”
Burlingame head coach Jeff Dowd, in his 14th season with the team, is ready to face a powerful Sacred Heart team that has defeated the Panthers in the CCS playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
“I’ll be honest, we don’t want to face Sacred [Heart],” Dowd joked. “They are a well coached team, but for us to beat them, we need to keep defending the three point shot and establish an inside game. Winning today was special, especially since it was against SI at their place, but we need to win on Saturday.”
Despite their season-ending loss, the Wildcats are already thinking about next season.
“Last year we finished in seventh place, and this year we finished in third,” said DeBenedetti. “We beat Mitty, Serra, Sacred Heart, and Regis. Our team is only getting better.”
The Wildcats are set to graduate six seniors, three of which are starters, including Mrlik. Of the eight remaining players, six will be seniors next year, leaving the Wildcats with plenty of experience to lead the way.
“Everyone really grew up this year,” Mrlik said. “We can always play better, but next year we will win CCS. The subs and junior varsity are all really good, and we never thought this game was over [tonight].”
Rodrigo Puliceno – 15
Zach Grotz – 15
Kyle Shaffer – 9
Conner Haupt – 8
Two players tied with 6 points
Johnny Mrlik – 16
Luke Pappas – 9
Antonio Aguilar – 8
Stephen Domingo – 8
Nick Johnson – 8
Sacred Heart Cathedral 73, Aptos 48
After leading only 34-31 at the half, the Irish held Aptos to 17 second-half points en route to a dominating 73-48 win on Wednesday.
Sacred Heart junior forwards Joshua Fox and Taylor Johns combined for 30 points and 27 rebounds, while Nick Grieves and Charlie Hinga combined for 28 points for the Mariners.
The Irish out-rebounded Aptos 52-41, including 21-3 on the offensive glass.