The Wildcats are back-to-back district champions

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The Wildcats got off to a flying start, leading 8-2 after just two minutes of play. After that, however, Saint Ignace’s offense stalled and Brunswick capitalized.

The Blue Devils had several three-point shots and had quickly taken a 16-13 lead by the two-minute mark in the first quarter. It didn’t stop there either; Brunswick kept going and had a 24-16 lead with 3.5 seconds left.

Jackson then drilled a buzzer three-ball to make it 24-19 and salvage the first quarter somewhat. The Wildcats scored eight points in the first two minutes, then just eight more in the last six.

Jackson began to warm up on offense in the second quarter and was set for a career night. Jackson scored 12 of 19 second quarter points for the Wildcats en route to a 15-point first half.

The Wildcats and Blue Devils battled for the lead throughout the second quarter. Neither team was able to build a lead of more than two or three points. CJ Yarian changed that for the Cats. The 6’10” senior hit a three-ball high with less than 30 seconds left in the second quarter, which gave his team a 38-33 lead before halftime.

Zach Eyssen stormed out of the locker room and scored the first seven points of the second half for Brunswick. Eyssen’s third-quarter push gave the Blue Devils a 40-38 lead with six minutes left in the quarter.

The game was still neck and neck minutes later. After Brayden Hamilton buried a three-pointer on Little’s outstretched arm, Joyce then called a timeout with 3:53 left in the third quarter.

Jackson continued an incredible night with one of the most important streaks of the game with 2:33 left in the third quarter. Jackson fired a charge as Thomas Krizsa fended off the second. Then, Jackson committed a turnover as he tried to pass the ball to Buckner. Cameron Cruz was the Blue Devil who took the ball and nearly drove coast to coast for the easy layup. However, Jackson followed him all the way to the hardwood and as Cruz put the ball in the air, Jackson blocked him against the glass.

The rebound was grabbed by Little, who, using his speed, went coast to coast for the lay-up at the other end. Once the chaos subsided, the Wildcats had a 49-45 lead, which was monumental at the time.

Hamilton, who would finish 5-11 from three points, drilled another trifecta to bring Brunswick to within a point of the lead. That Hamilton three-ball was the most of his career as he surpassed 1,000 career points with that shot, which is a rare feat that a select few high school athletes achieve.

The Blue Devils didn’t let the Wildcats get away in the second half and played the Blue and Gold extremely tough. The style of play on the pitch felt like anything a rivalry game would have.

The players were aggressive all night; no one was afraid to show their emotions. This resulted in a technical foul being awarded against Hamilton after pushing Jackson in the chest after a time out.

The technique resulted in a four-point swing in favor of the Wildcats, giving them a 53-48 lead with less than a minute left in the third quarter. Fletcher sank the two free throws that followed and Jackson drove home a recoil on a missed layup by Matt Ellis.

In the closing seconds of what had been a turbulent third quarter, Buckner buried a 23.5-footer to beat the buzzer and gave the Cats a 56-50 lead. The six-point advantage was the biggest for the Bleu et Or since half-time.

The same offenses that had scored 15 points apiece in the third quarter struggled to get the ball through the net early in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats opened up a 60-53 lead with 3:50 to go as Jackson brought home a midrange jumper just over Cruz. Jackson was the X factor for the Cats on Saturday; the Bleu et Or might not be heading to the regional semifinals if it weren’t for the sophomore varsity Wildcat.

The lead eventually grew to eight, with time on the clock ticking away, but the Blue Devils weren’t about to be sent home without a fight.

Cruz had two three-pointers that cut the Wildcats lead to five with 1:36 left.

Fletcher responded by sneaking behind the Brunswick defense with a backdoor to the basket. Wednesday’s SIBN player of the game gave the Wildcats a 66-59 lead with just 1:26 to play.

The Blue Devils had five fouls to inflict before the Wildcats fired any free throws, and they used every one of them, which halted the final minute of the game.

Brunswick managed to secure a three-pointer but could not reduce the lead to less than five points. After the seventh team foul, Effertz hit the boards and sank two free throws to put the district final on ice. This Basketball Cats win was one of the most deserved wins of the year and the team earned it for the way they fought back and forth.

“Happy, so happy,” Jackson says. “We wanted to go back to back [district titles], I haven’t done it for a while. Now we have to go to regionals and do this.”

Jackson led the Wildcats on Saturday. The Solon native scored a career-high 24 points with three assists, two blocks and two charges fired. Jackson was also 3/3 for beyond the three-point arch. The Basketball Cats will continue to be led by Jackson for years to come as he will be at the forefront of a core group of sophomores consisting of: Little, Buckner, Ellis, Sean Martin and Sam Springer .

The supporting cast for the Wildcats included: Buckner with 10 points and three rebounds, Fletcher with six points and a steal, Braydn Szczepaniak with eight points and three rebounds, Effertz with 13 points on 3/7 from three-point range. Little also contributed six rebounds and nine assists to go along with his four points.

The Wildcats shot 47% from the floor as a team and finished 47% from deep. The Cats also shot 7 of 9 (78%) from the free throw line, a solid number considering where those numbers are this season.

The Men of Ohio City are now targeting the regional semi-final for the second year in a row. The Wildcats (15-11) travel to the MACC Center at Kent State University, where they will face the Cleveland Heights Tigers (19-6) at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday.

“It feels good, but at the same time, we still have to lock ourselves in and we can’t take them [Cleveland Heights] lightly,” Jackson said when asked how it feels to play twice against the Tigers.

In their previous game this season, the Wildcats traveled to Cleveland Heights and defeated the Tigers 57-50 on Jan. 8. They took a 30-16 halftime lead but put the Tigers back in the game in the second half. The Cats were hampered by their 18 turnovers and lack of outside shots, going just 3 of 9 of three. They have improved a lot in those two departments since then.

The SIBN will have live Kent State video coverage and in-game updates and highlights on @SIHSSports on Twitter.

To students: The student section was amazing this past weekend and when in full force it is a force to be reckoned with. Having a pack section makes all the difference for our classmates competing on the hardwood. So if St. Ignatius is home to the “raucest student section in the country,” let’s go out and prove it on Wednesday night. Check out @IgnatiusSpirit on Twitter and @sihs.destruction on Instagram for the student section theme ahead of Wednesday.

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