Boys Basketball: St. Ignatius comes up short against Burlingame in CCS semis

Burlingame senior forward Rodrigo Puliceno eyes the St. Ignatius defense on Wednesday at St. Ignatius Prep. (Photo by Devin Chen)

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.

St. Ignatius senior guard Johnny Mrlik drives past Burlingame's Rodrigo Puliceno on Wednesday at St. Ignatius Prep. (Photo by Devin Chen)

“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].”

Scoring Leaders

Rodrigo Puliceno – 15
Zach Grotz – 15
Kyle Shaffer – 9
Conner Haupt – 8
Two players tied with 6 points

St. Ignatius
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.

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  1. JJ says:

    Sour way to end SI’s season with plenty of defensive lapses in the 1st half. Burlingame draining 3’s all over the place in the 1st half, and Rodrigo Puliceno bullying his way on the glass. Burlingame had a big lead in the 1st half, and SI never recovered. SI with a nice comeback at the end, but too little, too late. Good luck next season

  2. Basketball Fan says:

    Burlingame play a good game last night and they deserved that win. Let’s go Irish for a WCAL win on Sat..

  3. Anonymous says:

    SI will be good next year provided the Coach will utilize players that are useful in the court not players with influential parents. Replacing the coach should be a priority for SI. They should entertain applicants internally and externally make a good choice.

  4. SI Cats says:

    If these two teams met ten times, Burlingame would win eight- they’re that much better.

    Once again, SI showed no offensive game plan and played virtually no defense. Were constantly getting beat to the ball.

    If last night was any indication, they were not ready for prime time. Would have been eliminated early in CIF.

  5. Johnny Drama says:

    Rumor has it Coach Forslund and OC Director Phil Galvan applied and lost out to the current joker! They would have made much better coaches that who we have!

  6. Anonymous says:

    For the SI bb program to succeed, Coach DeBenedetti, if you must call him a coach, needs to step down ASAP. DeBenedetti has no idea on how to utilize his players nor does he know anything about coaching. He is influenced by big donors to SI.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Burlingame totally dominated the game last night. The score was not indicative of how out-played SI was. SI was down 21 points with 3 minutes to go in the 4th. Dean Ferrari (6’0″) manhandled Stephen Domingo. By the way, Burlingame has a couple of Freshmen that played significant minutes and look to be bright stars of the future. One of them, Nick Loew, is listed as 6’5″ and by the look of things, was the exact same height as Domingo. I think SI might have some Roster Height inflation going on.

  8. Biggie Big... says:

    Burlingame crushed SI last night and the fact is SI wasn’t ready to play and Burlingame was. The coaches job is to get the kids prepared and SI’s team was not prepared to play. I was watching and saw the big kid Aguilar playing well and at the time SI was down 2 and 4 then SI’s coach yanks him and Burlingame went on a 20 to 3 run and dominated the paint which then enabled them to start draining 3’s. Coach at SI needs to play the kids who get the job done and not who’s parents write the biggest donation checks…wow high school sports and politics already involved!!! SHC vs Burlingame should be a very good game…good luck to the kids…

  9. Cats Pride says:

    I think who Debenedetti plays is also based a lot on what SI’s athletic director says. If he tells Debenedetti to play the kids of big donors he doesn’t really have a say in the matter. the same goes with who makes the team. However he is definitely not blameless. With the talent SI has he should be winning more games. SI fans, WCAL pride and root for the Irish?

    • jbalan says:

      @ Cats Pride

      I’ve been watching the comments pretty closely, but this one is just ridiculous… Let’s not go overboard…

  10. SF Prep Fan says:

    Burlingame has vastly improved since these two teams played in Sand Dune Classic. Credit the cummulative impact of good Burlingame coaching. Burlingame’s offensive system created easy buckets by utilizing off-ball movement, multiple on-ball high screens, which openned up driving and passing lanes. As it has been all year, SI’s offensive system was stagnant, no ball screens, very easily defended with pressure defense and relied too much on players creating their own shot. All teams who extended their pressure defense against SI this year, won. Burlingame played terrific pressure defense, which SI’s flex offense is vulnerable to. I hope someone at SI is paying attention because it was sad to see their talent go to such waste this year. Their coach’s satisfaction (as he suggested in his interview) with the team’s overall underachievement this year, should be of great concern to SI.

  11. JJ says:

    @Johnny Drama did Forslund really apply for the job?? lol

    Anyways, I think SI played hard; it’s just that Burlingame — in the 2nd quarter — hit like 6 shots in a row without missing (all from long-distance) and that took the energy out of SI. Then as the lead rose to DD in a minute and a half, SI started panicking which resulted in more turnovers and mistakes. Then SI was forcing the action when nothing was there, and not playing their game.

  12. Julio Q says:

    @SF Preps

    This website has been extremely helpful in providing schedules, summaries and scores.
    The COMMENTS section is really a bad idea. Taking shots at high school kids does more harm than good.


  13. JJ says:

    @Julio I agree that taking shots on HS kids does more harm than good, but Stephen Domingo is soft and he does need to gain weight. Even Kevin Durant is soft and needs to gain weight.

  14. jordan24 says:

    While I don’t ever condone of ever taking shots at the kids, the comments section is the BEST part! I was not at the game, but I would have thought Domingo would have had a better game…considering he’s one of the top sophs in the country…I would have to say that Jerry Brown and Kevin Greene from SHC were better players as sophs than domingo and a few years back Marquise Kately from Riordan was dominating until he was academically suspended. Should be a good matchup on Saturday.

  15. parent says:

    Biggie is on drugs. When Aguilar came on Burlingame went on a run. You’re watching the wrong game. And DeBenedetti is an awful coach, but it doesn’t have anything to do with donors. He just doesn’t get the game or the best out of the players

  16. JJ says:

    @jordan24 EXACTLY!! that’s the reason why I come to this site: the comments.

    Anyways, Jerry Brown as a sophomore wasn’t that great. He would make very stupid decisions out there, and his J isn’t as text-book pretty like Domingo’s. Domingo had a bad game vs B-game but you can’t look at 1 game. Si got extremely cold in the 2nd quarter, and were playing catch-up from then on. Then, they had to chuck up wild 3’s just to get back in the game. Not a recipe for success. If anything, they probably need to employ the defensive press more since they usually have a deep bench much like what SHC does.

  17. ajd says:

    When you get blown out at the end of the season by a team you beat at the beginning, it’s because you’re coaching hasn’t improved the players. They have not been taught to play basketball and have glaring deficiencies in their fundamentals. SI is a one man band running the predictable flex offense. Burlingame wore out Mrlik by pressing him every time he had the ball. Domingo settles (and is allowed to shoot) fad away 3’s. Pretty simple scouting report.

    Look at SI’s flawed fundamentals from last night to make your coaching conclusions. Defenders never have their hands up in the key and Collins actually puts his arms out to his side with his palms facing the floor? When defending the baseline, they never have their baseline foot back and opposite hand up. They don’t know how to set either on ball or off ball screens and when they try, they set their screens too early and never hold their position. On offense, the post players never pass the ball back out to move the defense. They don’t know how (or not allowed?) to run a break and only play free throw line to free throw line. A prestigious school like SI should have the best coaches. Pick the best guy available and do what’s right for the kids.

  18. wow says:

    @ parent
    It doesn’t matter if Aguilar was in or not when bgame made their run because Aguilar did all he could in down low.he gave them an offensive presence in the post when he got the ball.burlingame guards were just too tough and pushed the ball down SI’s throat.I have been following Aguilar since his grade school years at Mission Dolores and have always liked his game.Aguilar did not back down from Rodrigo Pulicemo and was physical with him.also, I believe domingo could be great if he put some weight on.I believe he is legit just had an off game.Wish the best for SI next year.maybe Forslund will reconsider and take SI job next year?

  19. JJ says:

    I don’t think Forslund will take the SI job. does it even pay well? Forslund makes $ being a lawyer. Plus, he’s a Riordan alum

  20. Roll Cats says:

    @ parent– when Aguilar came in, Burlingame went on a run: in which they could not stop Tone. Antonio played solid D against the 28 year old and he found the ball and scored as a post player, a difficult thing to do in SI’s predictable offense.

    Being predictable makes it tough for guys to score, especially Mrlik, even though the guy routinely finds ways to score and is most deserving of city mvp this year because of the odds against him being able to score with the defense knowing where the ball is going. I disagree about the comments with Domingo. He’s only 15, he will bulk up as he grows up and he has a killer outside shot. He too is plagued by the offensive scheme and will be a great asset to the national team as he can fill the role of spot up shooter and has so much talent to contribute.

    All in all, a difficult way to end the season and very frustrating for SI. The players had so much talent and it is unfortunate that the NorCal brackets won’t feature SI, a team that beat SH, Mitty, Serra, Burlingame, Bellarmine, and best of all- Mitty. Also, the team’s efforts in the final quarter deserve to be commended as they never gave up and played with fire and heart, something that upset Burlingame and made the game a little interesting at the end. The alumni hope for an even deeper run next year!

  21. eko says:

    SI is a fantastic team – the coach needs to utilize the talented players on the court

  22. Anonymous says:

    The SI coach sucks!

  23. Ari Gold says:

    Oh how we long for the days of Don Lippi… At least the coach tried to look like Lippi from behind with the baldness.

    Yes next year SI should improve. If Domingo plays like a man. You won’t have to worry about Mrlik hucking up shots from 25 feet anymore. Or taking 50% of the teams shots. Spread the ball around and you should get easier baskets.

  24. Pablo says:

    I stated last week that the Killer Bee’s from Burlingame were not to be over looked, they have reached the CCS championship game for the 3rd year in a row, loosing the last 2 to the MIghty Irish, should be a cracker on Saturday! Parents take a chill pill, show some respect for your coach, whether you like it or not he was hired to do a job and as JJ stated, I don’t believe that he will be retiring anytime soon on the huge money he is being paid! most of these coaches are volunteers at heart, it’s not college or the NBA, shame on you, what kind of influence are you on your kids, spending so much time ragging on the Coach. Congrats to EJ Silvia on a terrific season, by far the most improved player on the team, completely full of “Heart” plays the game with a toughness and dedication just like his dad, the Legend Eddie!
    As for next year forget about Domingo and Co. SH is going to be unstoppable, don’t forget all Juniors and Sophmores this year, with the exception of the mighty Folan.

    Go Irish on Saturday, if not this year, I smell a state championship in the very near future.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Majority of people ragging on the SI coach here are not parents, they are SI alums, SI fans and students. I for one is a fan I haven’t seen every game SI played this year but the games I’ve seen coaching was the really difference. I will not be surprised if he doesn’t step down or fired as the SI coach, but for the sake of SI boys basketball he should concentrate more teaching the students!

  26. IC Stars says:

    Geez, if you guys hate your coach so much then forfeit the trophy.

  27. SF Prep Fan says:

    @ Ari Gold I agree with your point about shot selection, but the scheme plays a big role — SI’s ill-conceived 5-man out offensive scheme often resulted in either Domingo or Mrlick shooting low % shots at the end of the shot clock. You make a good point about Lippi, he would have helped SI’s team immensely as SI should have had an inside-out game. Lippi would have installed the right system. On the other hand, do the math before you quote %’s. Mrlick averaged 11 shots per game and Domingo 10 shots per game during the regular season. The rest of the team took shots. Where do you get 50%?

    @Pablo, SI needs a head coach. This democratic forum is probably the only voice parents, fans and alums have. If the parents are critical, they have a right to be, as they invest heavily in their kids basketball through the years and expect to have a competent head coach at this competitive level. Shame on SI for giving the job to an insider who never even played high school basketball (I looked it up). This democratic process yields fair assessments — look at comments after University HS games — there are no negative comments (all positive) about their coach. The reason, University has an outstanding head basketball coach — he is experienced, knows what he is doing and the players, parents, fans, alum all believe in him. The only negative points are from opponents who complain about being beaten by unsportsmanlike margins. Certainly, SI fans would love this negative commentary.

  28. JJ says:

    Even if SI won, they would’ve lost to SHC in Santa Clara on Saturday, then would’ve lost by 15 to some powerhouse in SAC in the NorCal playoffs. They should’ve lost to Riordan, but SI’s size was too much to overcome, so they lost to Burlingame who had a much bigger team than Riordan. SI didn’t play as a team; too much one on one and stagnant offense, no teamwork.

  29. Anonymous says:

    SI’s AD, Bob Vergara is the problem. Bad hire, bad hires.

  30. Cats pride says:

    I agree that SI would have had a tough time beating SH in Santa Clara this Saturday, but I think they have just as good, if not a better chance than Burlingame. After all SI has done it before in a big venue.
    In concern with Norcal I don’t think that SH or Burlingame will get very far. SH is too inconsistent (see vs Serra). A performance like that can happen again by the Irish, and although there 2 bigs are good they are not very deep in that regard. Since I haven’t seen anything impressive from the SH guards I don’t think SH stands much of a chance in Nor-Cals.

  31. JJ says:

    SI wouldn’t have beat SHC on Saturday. They can’t even pass to the open man. They would rather huck up a contested 3 than pass. I saw the game vs Burlingame. Like one time, Domingo has the ball on the top of the key, then Nick Johnson’s defender falls down, so Nick Johnson runs to the basket and Domingo doesn’t even pass to him even though he had a clear lane to the basket. Instead he did something stupid like dribble the ball and get RIPPED by a smaller defender. Many other instances I’ve seen…..too many to name.

    And regarding the SH guards, they are very quick, play great defense, and drive to the basket, but they can’t shoot from outside, except Folan. They will win a couple games in the CIF playoffs, but will probably bow out and lose in the semis. I think next year, they will win STATE.

  32. mad dad says:

    The Wildcat athletic program is a complete disaster. Amazing head football coach GONE and now my beloved Cats bball program a train wreck. Even if they fired the coach AND the AD, they will probably just replace them with “the next guy in line”. Maybe they’ll bring back Drucker again like they did when DeBenedetti first started three years ago lol. Maybe they can make Debenedetti the AD and make the AD the bball coach! Maybe the assistant AD can be the boys bball coach like his brother the girls head coach!

    It all makes my head spin. I respect the coaches trying to do the best they can for our kids, but sometimes that just isn’t enough when you see a season or even a career end for a player and feel like things could have been done better. What would Lippi, Reardon, Forslund, Rapp, Dowd, Bessolo, Kennedy, Guilbeaux, Galvin, or even Buckner have done with these young men?

    Respect, pity, anger, and disappointment. That about sums up how I feel about the 3 amigos on the varsity staff. I can only hope the admin of a very good school figure out the right thing to do. The future of our Cats is at stake.

  33. MFan says:

    I have been watching Stephen Domingo for a number of years now. Domingo game is fundamentally sound & basketball IQ is way ahead of his class. Am also aware that Domingo is a highly regarded talent that’s been watched by high major national schools because he can fit in & help their programs.
    The SI coach is the problem.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Coach D should be replaced as the bb coach. Many families that has boys on his team over the last three years that he has been the varsity coach have first hand experience with his inability to run the team. He has no idea how to use the roster that he has and the talent that he gets every year. Every player on the team is capable of playing at high levels if the offense is not stagnant and is used based on the types of players. How can you continue to run a set princeton offense year with all the speed and shooters that you have on your team? They would win alot more games if the reins were taken off and if he would go with a full rotation of his bench. Coach D does not even give his veteran players any respect. Starting underclassmen in previous years and than benching the same players in their senior years??? wth kind of coaching is that. Pulling players that are performing well and changing the tempo at all the wrong times. We have all seen it. I am not just a fan, but a parent of SI bb players over the years and he has truly ruined the program over the last few years. Bring back Reardon or someone from outside that knows basketball!!!

  35. Hit Man says:

    IMHO, Domingo plays soft and is all flash. He loves his own jumper and seems to work on it in the middle of games by hoisting up ill-conceived shots. Why does he do this if it doesn’t help his team win? Because showing off for college recruiters is more important that winning for his school basketball team. Welcome to the new world created by AAU basketball.

    This is not a criticism of Domingo alone. Club basketball is more important to top players. Ask Nate Ford. Check out the book, Play Their Hearts Out. The club basketball mentality sacrifices winning to make sure you look good and build a rep. Domingo won’t go inside for SI because he won’t be playing inside in college. In college, he needs to be a 2, maybe a 3, and therefore he needs to play face up and must have a killer outside shot. I predict that he doesn’t finish his high school career at SI. His agenda seems more suited for one of those basketball mills like Findlay Prep, Huntington Prep or Oak Hill.

    SH struggled early against Bgame, but took control in the 2nd half. Taylor Johns was a beast on D and Bgame’s big man was totally stymied. SH returns everyone and will be the team to beat next year.

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