By Jeremy Balan
For the first time in a long time, Sacred Heart Cathedral definitively has a better girls basketball team than St. Ignatius.
With a 51-48 home win over their crosstown rivals on Tuesday, the Irish completed a sweep of St. Ignatius in West Catholic Athletic League play for the first time since 2009.
With the win, Sacred Heart (16-4, 8-1) also remains tied for first place in the league with defending Division II state champion Mitty.
“We’re not satisfied and I don’t want to relax,” said Sacred Heart head coach LyRyan Russell. “It’s one thing to get to the top, but it’s another thing to stay at the top. Our girls are working hard and battling, and we’re trying to earn our respect that way.”
The Irish shot just 28 percent from the floor, but applied constant defensive pressure on the Wildcats (14-6, 4-4) throughout and had a dominant performance on the offensive glass.
Sacred Heart took in 17 offensive rebounds, led by five from 6-foot sophomore center Ashanti Coleman and forced 18 turnovers. Coleman also had four blocks, guards Briannah Smith and Kairee Howard menaced the St. Ignatius perimeter and senior forward Ashley Gainer took three charges.
Smith had a game-high 13 points and five rebounds, and standout junior guard GeAnna Summers-Luaulu added 12, despite being in foul trouble throughout.
“We have a very deep team and every girl played tonight,” Russell said. “That wears teams down.”
After trailing 30-20 at the half and 39-30 after the third quarter, however, the Wildcats appeared to figure out the Irish pressure. St. Ignatius beat the full-court press easily in the fourth quarter, feasted on transition baskets and cut the Irish lead to 46-43 with 1:53 remaining.
“We figured out their press weeks ago, but I don’t know why, in games, it takes us two and a half, three quarters to figure it out,” said St. Ignatius head coach Michael Mulkerrins. “It’s frustrating . . . That’s a winnable game if we come out and do what we’re supposed to do.”
The Irish even missed two crucial front-end, one-and-one free throws in the final two minutes, but followed them up with offensive rebounds each time.
“That’s why I have a bald head. I don’t want any gray hairs showing,” Russell said of Sacred Heart’s missed free throws late. “It’s part of the game and even though we missed free throws, the girls battled to get the offensive rebounds. That’s the kind of team we have. The effort is there.”
The Wildcats shot 37 percent from the field, but took 10 fewer shots from the floor than the Irish and nine fewer free throws, mainly from Sacred Heart’s offensive rebounding. No St. Ignatius player scored in double figures, but four players — Tatiana Ranis, Sydney Raggio, Janessa Manzano and Quinci Mann — were tied for the team lead with seven points.
“They played hard, they wanted it more than we did and they executed better than we did. Those are the facts,” Mulkerrins said. “Sacred Heart wanted it more than we did — bottom line. We have great kids and they work extremely hard, but on the court they’re looking for someone else to step up . . . We’re in the middle of the pack [in the WCAL] because we deserve to be. We’re exactly where we should be.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Briannah Smith – 13
GeAnna Summers-Luaulu – 12
Ashley Gainer – 7
Jerrieza Enriquez – 7
Kairee Howard – 5
Quinci Mann – 7
Janessa Manzano – 7
Sydney Raggio – 7
Tatiana Ranis – 7
Tyler Brown – 6