SAN FRANCISCO — Before the three minutes were up, the chanting had begun.
The rowdy student section of the overflowing St. Ignatius Auxiliary Gymnasium began with taunts of “Talk about it!” after the third-seeded Wildcats took an 8-0 lead and No. 11 Lincoln-Stockton called timeout. They escalated into chants of “Overrated!”, directed at the Trojans’ best player, held to 9 points in his final high school game before heading to San Diego State as they closed in of their journey to the CIF NorCal Division 1 semi-final. And after the buzzer sounded – 53-38 final – the tightly coiled emotions shattered in a brief altercation on the pitch.
“You hate to see this. It was a tough match. There were some frustrations that boiled over there at the end,” St. Ignatius coach Jason Greenfield said. “I think our fans were over him and giving it to him. I’m glad nothing went wrong. »
The teams crossed the post-match handshake line before players from both sides were separated. A player from the Lincoln side had strolled towards the corner of the student section of St. Ignatius, then appeared to be caught up in the ensuing celebration.
What they had seen in the previous 32 minutes was, as described by Greenfield, St. Ignatius’ best game of the season.
As he walked away from his post-match interview, Greenfield added: “I wouldn’t have picked us tonight.”
St. Ignatius has a fiery group of seniors who have embraced their coach’s modern basketball system.
Lincoln’s roster is led by Division I talent — 6-7 senior Miles Byrd — and deep enough to take many of the Bay Area’s top teams to the wire. The Trojans had beaten Clayton Valley — who had taken SI to overtime in the first round — and lost by one to the best team in CCS, Archbishop Mitty, and by two to the best team in all of Northern California, Campolindo.
But the result was rarely in question on Thursday night.
Senior Sean Quanico, the Wildcats’ best – albeit undersized – defenseman got the crucial defensive game against Byrd, but immediately made his presence known on the other side of the court, knocking down a 3-pointer for the first basket of the game, kicking off an 8-0 run as Lincoln took his first timeout after 2 minutes and 44 seconds.
With Quanico, who gives Byrd 6 inches, in the lead, the Wildcats limited the top rookie to nine points.
“I wasn’t going to put my fat on him. I was just going to put my best defender on him and hope he misses some shots,” Greenfield said. “Sean Quanico is a world defender. He’s really annoying, and he gets under guys. If you’re 6-7 and you have a little guy on his knees, that can create problems. He’s done a great job .”
The increased stakes were perhaps no more evident than towards the end of the Saint Ignatius Game Hunt Race.
After taking a 28-12 halftime lead, St. Ignatius allowed Lincoln to score 15 of the first 18 points out of intermission.
Byrd, a consensus 4-star rookie, showed his potential with a one-handed dunk in transition, immediately followed by another bucket in the paint to fire Lincoln in the four, 31-27 – as close as the Trojans would get – in his best streak of the game.
St. Ignatius responded with, in Greenfield’s words, his “power bunny” off the bench: senior Adrian Di Lena, who entered around the 4-minute mark of the third quarter and scored the next two baskets, ending Lincoln. run and start one of its own. St. Ignatius clinched a 15-2 run that was ended by, who else, Di Lena.
After committing a hard foul on a drive to the basket, Di Lena got up and found himself face to face with Byrd, whose pocket he had taken during the previous possession and who defended Di Lena during the lay-up attempt that sent him to the ground.
“I just felt the energy,” Di Lena said. “You have to be fearless when you play against these guys. I love playing against great players like that. Get in there a bit, and with the student section behind us, it just adds energy.
Officials spoke and both players received technical sheets. But it didn’t take a conference to realize that at that point, separated by 15 points with 4 minutes remaining, the fates of the two teams were sealed.
The win sent St. Ignatius to the next round, where he will have to hit the road for the first time in the playoffs on Saturday at No. 2 Inderkum, who knocked out No. 10 Granada in their second-round match.
Just by going this far, St. Ignatius has accomplished more than ever under Greenfield, who took over before last year’s pandemic-shortened season that featured no state playoffs. Even so, last season ended frustratingly with a controversial last-second loss in the CSC playoffs.
This team included 11 juniors.
It has 12 seniors.
To find out how long these guys have been playing together, just watch Di Lena.
About to graduate from high school, he has been playing basketball with teammate Zach Ferndon since they were in kindergarten. Other teammates since fifth year. Pretty much the whole team since the first year.
Greenfield, who arrived two years ago with his coaches’ emphasis on 3-pointers, proved to be the glue that held the group together.
“I think it shows how good Greenfield is and how he can come in and bring a good system to this program,” said Ryan Conroy, who finished with a team-high 15 points. “He really likes 3s. And he really likes not giving up 3s. Obviously you’ve seen tonight when we’re able to knock down 3s, we’re able to beat just about anyone.
On Thursday, the Wildcats got 3 points from Conroy, Giancarlo Toledo and Quanico – their top three scorers with 15, nine and eight apiece. (Di Lena scored all seven of his points after halftime, but none came on a 3 ball.)
“It’s modern basketball,” said Greenfield, who was hired before last season. “I inherited from these guys. They have been together for a long time. They bought into the system, which I think made them better. … They get it and it shows in the numbers. There are so many games where we have been outplayed in six or seven different categories, but we are ahead of them by 20 points and we win.
From training for games that never happened to playing in half-full gymnasiums, finally, to Thursday nights in a true playoff environment. Now the Wildcats are one win away from a trip to Sacramento’s Golden1 Center for the state finals.
Going forward, the Wildcats won’t have the help of the home crowd.
“At this point you’re supposed to have good crowds,” Greenfield said. “If you can’t create your own energy anyway, you shouldn’t be here.”