By Jeremy Balan
The highs of the St. Ignatius boys basketball season have been towering, but the lows have been equally abysmal.
In the Wildcats’ semifinal matchup with El Camino in the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs, that range of emotions all came in one game.
The third-seeded Wildcats played arguably their worst basketball through three quarters, trailed 45-23 heading into the fourth, then outscored the visiting Colts 22-6 in the final frame, but could not bounce back from the overwhelming deficit in a 51-45 loss.
St. Ignatius (11-16) shot just over 19 percent from the floor in the first three quarters, including 1-of-15 from three point range, while El Camino’s (25-4) pair of Michael Smith and Elijah White combined to score 24 of the Colts’ 26 points in the first half. Smith scored a game-high 20 points and hit 4-of-5 shots from 3-point range in the first half.
“We can’t dig a hole like that against a team as good as those guys,” said St. Ignatius head coach Tim Reardon. “In the first half, we couldn’t hit the side of a barn and those guys were hitting everything.”
But in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats suddenly found a spark.
St. Ignatius scored the first nine points of the half in just under two minutes on three consecutive 3-pointers (two from junior forward Stephen Domingo and one from junior guard Daniel MacLean-Vernic). Smith then hit two free throws, but St. Ignatius responded with a 11-2 run to cut the lead to 49-45 with 1:38 remaining.
The key to the SI run was nine El Camino turnovers in the fourth quarter that gave the appearance the Colts were self-destructing.
With time slipping away from SI, White, who only scored two points in the second half, drove into the lane and found senior guard Truman Lee under the basket for a wide-open layup to put the game out of reach with 40 seconds left.
The win puts El Camino into its first CCS championship game in school history.
“I think we got a little anxious and SI fought and fought. It was a really nervous time,” said El Camino head coach Archie Junio. “Everybody was just a little too tense. A lot was on the line, like El Camino history. It’s the first three quarters that saved us, not the last.”
Domingo and sophomore point guard Trevor Dunbar struggled to score in the first three quarters, but combined for 17 points in the fourth. As it has been for most of the season, when the pair is playing well, the Wildcats are dangerous, but when they’re off, they struggle.
“I was proud of the fourth quarter, obviously. They busted their butts to get back in it, but It was a microcosm of our year,” Reardon said. “[Domingo] goes nuts against Serra and we win and Aptos had no answer for him. He just got cold at the same time everybody else did.”
The Wildcats’ season ends in the CCS semifinals for the second-consecutive year, but with many key pieces returning next season, Reardon remained optimistic.
“If we play an average three quarters and we got hot [in the fourth quarter], we would have got them,” Reardon said. “It’s tough for the seniors, but there were four juniors and a sophomore that played a lot during that comeback, so I think they’re hopeful about what they can do next year.”
Michael Smith – 20
Elijah White – 12
Anthony Knight – 10
Jalen Bitanga – 4
Matt Azzopardi – 3
Trevor Dunbar – 16
Stephen Domingo – 13
Nick Johnson – 5
Noah Bull – 4
Daniel MacLean-Vernic – 3
Here’s another bonus highlight video from our friend George Nguyen