By Jeremy Balan
SANTA CLARA – The St. Ignatius girls basketball team was rattled in their loss to Mitty in the West Catholic Athletic League championship game two weeks ago.
For three quarters in the rematch with the Monarchs in the Central Coast Section Division II championship game, the Mitty defensive pressure did not faze the Wildcats, but in the fourth the same shakiness reared its ugly head in a 49-48 Mitty win on Friday at Santa Clara University.
After a layup from St. Ignatius senior Kaitlyn Crawley gave the Wildcats (25-5) their biggest lead of the game at 39-31 with just under 6 minutes remaining, Mitty (24-5) forced six turnovers to spur a 16-2 run that gave the Monarchs a 47-41 lead with just over a minute left.
“We started to apply some defensive pressure that created the kind of easy transition baskets that we were lacking in the first half,” said Mitty head coach Sue Phillips.
But St. Ignatius wasn’t done and cut the Mitty lead to 49-47 on a follow from freshman center Josie Little with 11 seconds left.
That’s when the circumstances of the Wildcats’ loss went from disappointing to heartbreaking.
On the ensuing inbound play, St. Ignatius senior guard Maria Kemiji-McDonald knocked the ball away from Mitty sophomore guard Kelli Hayes near midcourt. The ball bounced to SI senior guard Courtney Gong, who passed the ball back to Kemiji-McDonald.
Kemiji-McDonald drove to the left side of the basket, and found Little under the rim on the right side. Little went up for a shot in the lane and nearly made the attempt, but was fouled in the process, sending her to the free-throw line with 3 seconds left, with a chance to tie the game with two made shots.
The 6-foot-1 freshman missed the first attempt then made the second and the Wildcats came up one point short.
“We wouldn’t have been in that position without her and she’s really upset right now, but that just shows you how much she cares,” said St. Ignatius head coach Michael Mulkerrins. “She’s grown so much this year and will continue to improve.”
Little led a standout St. Ignatius defensive effort with a game-high 11 rebounds and seven blocks, while scoring seven points.
“At the end of the day, they’re not even in that basketball game without her,” Phillips said of Little. “Her rebounding, her defensive presence, her buckets – I hope that kid doesn’t look at the game and feel like that was the reason for the outcome. It was one free throw in the course of 32 minutes.”
Kemiji-McDonald and freshman forward Sydney Raggio led the Wildcats with 10 points apiece, but the fourth quarter was owned by Hayes.
The sophomore had 12 points, two steals and a block in the final quarter and was the defensive spark that led to 20 Mitty points off St. Ignatius turnovers. Hayes finished with a game-high 25 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
“Kelli is so competitive and so athletic, we would really like her to create something from the defensive side and she just played a superior second half,” Phillips said.
As a CCS finalist, St. Ignatius still earns a berth in the CIF State Championship tournament beginning next week, with another date with Mitty potentially on the horizon.
“We’ll see how the seeding goes, but I would hate to be a top-four seed and draw them,” Phillips said.
Kelli Hayes – 25
Vanessa Garner – 8
Kayln Simon – 8
Amanda Lovely – 4
Two players tied with 2 points
Maria Kemiji-McDonald – 10
Sydney Raggio – 10
Courtney Gong – 8
Josie Little – 7
Kaitlyn Crawley – 6