By Jeremy Balan
Westmoor head boys basketball coach Herb Yaptinchay doesn’t know the last time the Rams defeated a West Catholic Athletic League opponent, because it may have never happened before.
If it has, it hasn’t happened in a very long time.
That all changed Tuesday night at St. Ignatius, when the Rams, only five years removed from a 1-20 season, orchestrated the first huge upset of the basketball season with a 75-74 overtime win over the Wildcats.
The last time the two teams met, in 2009, St. Ignatius won 61-20.
“They’re just looking for respect,” Yaptinchay said of his senior-laden group. “Everyone looks at us and looks at our lineup — we’re all a bunch of short Asian kids for the most part and we don’t have a guy over 6-foot — but they play with tremendous heart and that’s the big thing. It’s a huge win for them.”
St. Ignatius junior point guard Trevor Dunbar may be one of the top players in the City, but on Tuesday, the best player on the floor was Westmoor’s Wai Min, who had a game-high 24 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.
No block was more important than his final rejection with 6 seconds remaining in overtime with St. Ignatius (1-1) trailing by a point. Two seconds later, Min missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity and the Wildcats got Dunbar the ball. He heaved a last-gasp shot just as he crossed midcourt, but the ball bounced straight off the backboard and away from the rim.
“He’s been a four-year starter for us and he’s been our team captain the last three years,” Yaptinchay said of Min. “Again, he’s underrated. They look at him and think he’s a 5-foot-10 Asian kid that can’t do anything, but he’s got tremendous competitiveness, jumps out of the gym and gets boards over everybody, and he’s playing center on defense. It’s all about heart.”
Min led a dominant Westmoor rebounding performance in the first half (the Rams outrebounded St. Ignatius 23-11 before the break), but the Wildcats flipped the script in the second. Riding 16 second-half points and nine rebounds from junior forward Julian Marcu, the Wildcats controlled the boards in the second half, but continued to struggle guarding the athletic, driving Westmoor guards.
“We tried to go with two bigs, which we usually don’t do, but as much as it was helping us in the offense, we just can’t guard them with two bigs, because they’re so fast and all play on the perimeter,” said St. Ignatius head coach Tim Reardon.
The loss does come with some context, however, for the Wildcats.
St. Ignatius was missing three starters (seniors Albert Waters and Andrew Vollert, who are still playing football, and senior Daniel MacLean-Vernic, who was out with a shoulder injury) and the only player on the floor with varsity experience prior to this season was Dunbar, who finished with 17 points.
Dunbar kept the Wildcats afloat in the first half with 13 points before the break, but the Rams (4-0) still controlled play and led 32-26 at halftime.
“If Trevor didn’t play that well in the first half, we would have been down by 20,” Reardon said.
Westmoor’s biggest lead was a 44-35 advantage midway through the third quarter, but even with the roster limitations, the Wildcats were in a position to win at the end of regulation and in overtime.
On the final play of the fourth quarter, St. Ignatius ran what appeared to be a perfect play. With 1.8 seconds left and an inbound pass upcoming under Westmoor’s basket, the Wildcats packed the paint, then broke every player to the perimeter, except for one. The Westmoor defense rushed to cover the streaking players, but left 6-foot-8 center Troy Rike all alone under the net. The junior jumped to take in a high pass and put up a shot without coming down with the ball, but the attempt rattled in and out of the rim, sending the game to overtime.
“It was a great play that was executed perfectly, but it just didn’t go for us,” Reardon said.
Pike played a large part in the St. Ignatius comeback too, with 10 points, six rebounds and two blocks off the bench.
The Wildcats also jumped out to a 74-69 lead midway through the 4-minute overtime period, behind two clutch jump shots from junior guard Jaren Yang, but the Rams ended the extra frame on a 6-0 run.
“They played with more heart than us,” Reardon said. “We showed a little bit coming back, but it shouldn’t have come to that.”
Wai Min – 24
Errol Fernandez – 21
Eric Liang – 14
John Mayuga – 14
Alton Chen – 2
Julian Marcu – 18
Trevor Dunbar – 17
Jaren Yang – 16
Tristan Wentworth – 13
Troy Rike – 10