By Jeremy Balan
After cruising through the first two games against visiting rival Sacred Heart Cathedral in the West Catholic Athletic League semifinals on Wednesday, St. Ignatius got all they could ask for from the Irish in the third.
The Wildcats battled back from a three four-point deficits and three game points to win the extended third game, sealing a 25-15, 25-17, 28-26 win to advance to their first WCAL boys volleyball championship game in school history.
Like the individual match, the win completes a three-match season sweep of the Irish (23-11).
“This game means a lot to us, because we really want to get to the finals,” said St. Ignatius senior middle blocker Mat Collins. “The fact that it’s against [Sacred Heart] just makes it bigger. They’re our rivals and there was a lot of talking in the tournament this weekend about who would beat who today, and we came out with it.”
Collins led the way early, with five kills in the first game, which was dominated by the Wildcats (22-12). St. Ignatius jumped out to a 10-1 lead and never looked back in the first and also handled the Irish with relative ease in the second.
But it was the crucial third that delivered the decisive, and also crushing blow to the Irish.
Sacred Heart appeared to be in control with an 18-14 lead in the third and had game points at 24-23, 25-24 and 26-25, but could not cash in. In the final nine points of the game, Sacred Heart had two service errors and a debilitating rotation violation on their second game point opportunity.
St. Ignatius senior outside hitter Joel Schow had six kills in the third game and finished with a game-high 10, but was one of four Wildcats with at least seven kills.
“We’ve stressed all year that there’s not one person we’re going to ride; There’s not one person who’s going to carry us to a victory,” said St. Ignatius co-head coach Steve Dunne. “Our setter Teddy [Niemira] made the right sets and allowed our guys to all hit with pretty high percentages.”
While the Wildcats’ attack was balanced, the Irish leaned heavily on seniors Matthew Tinio and Hamidou Drammeh, who finished with 11 and eight kills, respectively.
The Wildcats will face top-seeded Bellarmine in the league final on Thursday, but won’t have to travel down to San Jose. Because there is a scheduling conflict in Bellarmine’s gym, St. Ignatius will actually host the game, a welcome home-court advantage Dunne and the Wildcats will look to capitalize on.
St. Ignatius dropped both regular-season matches and also lost a tournament match to the Bells (33-7). All three were sweeps.
“We knew what they were capable of in spots last year and they put in the work this year,” Dunne said. “They deserve to be here. We’re excited and proud of them, but they’ve earned it.”
Sacred Heart head coach Nga Tran was not available for comment after the game.