By Jeremy Balan
Seemingly overmatched physically at every position, it was no surprise to many that St. Ignatius’ girls basketball team fell to Archbishop Mitty High School on the road to kick off the West Catholic Athletic League season.
The undersized Wildcats held serve on their home court Friday night, though, and it started on the defensive end.
The Wildcats held Mitty forwards Amanda Lovely and Courtney Lisowsky, both Division I recruits, to a combined nine points and handed the Monarchs their first WCAL loss in a 55-49 win.
“It always starts with the defense,” said St. Ignatius head coach Michael Mulkerrins. “The team that I envisioned, when we put this team together, finally showed up. We played just unbelievable defense.”
St. Ignatius (16-3, 6-1) forced 21 Mitty turnovers, but it was the performance of freshman center Josie Little that stuck out.
Little guarded Lovely, who is bound for Pepperdine, for most of the game and had three blocks, scored 10 points, took in 12 rebounds and may have hit the most important free throws of her early high school career.
After trailing 23-22 at the half, the Wildcats built a 11-point lead late in the third quarter, but the Monarchs (15-5, 7-1) charged back late and tied the game at 46-46 with 1:43 remaining in the game after a pair of free throws from junior guard Emily Dinger.
On the next St. Ignatius possession, Little was fouled and calmly hit two free throws to give the Wildcats back a lead they would not relinquish.
“A lot of people think, by looking at Josie, that she’s just a thin freshman,” Mulkerrins said. “She’s one of the toughest kids I’ve met and she’s only going to get tougher.”
The Wildcats may have let the Monarchs come back, but they put the game away at the free-throw line. Senior guard Courtney Gong hit all six of her free throws in the fourth quarter and the Wildcats hit 11-of-12 attempts in the fourth quarter.
Two of those free throws came from guard Maria Kemiji-McDonald, who finished with a game-high 16 points, but in the second half, the standout senior turned into a distributor.
“She’s so dynamic and she’s such a great athlete,” Mulkerrins said. “When kids were getting tired out there, Maria was going by them, and she didn’t get much rest. I always tell her that if she can make better decisions and get her teammates involved, big things are going to happen. That’s exactly what happened.”
Kemiji-McDonald had five of her game-high six assists in the second half, and sparked a free-flowing St. Ignatius offense that allowed the Wildcats to open up a double-digit lead.
“We really wanted it, because it’s the last time [the seniors] will be able to play at home against Mitty,” Kemiji-McDonald said. “It’s really exciting to come back and get some revenge for three years of losing to them.”
Because St. Ignatius has played one less game in the WCAL, the Wildcats are still percentage points behind Mitty in the WCAL standings, but both figure to be the top seeds in the league playoffs, and with both teams now in Division II, the two teams could see each other as many as three more times in postseason play.
“Now we have to take care of business [in the rest of WCAL play],” Mulkerrins said. “Mitty is definitely going to be there waiting.”
Maria Kemiji-McDonald – 16
Courtney Gong – 14
Josie Little – 10
Sydney Raggio – 6
Two players tied with 4 points
Vanessa Garner – 13
Kalyn Simon – 10
Kelli Hayes – 7
Emily Dinger – 6
Amanda Lovely – 6