COW PALACE — Friday night may have been the first high school basketball game ever played at the Cow Palace, but Sacred Heart Cathedral felt right at home.
Having played last year’s Bruce-Mahoney Game against rival St. Ignatius at Haas Pavilion and starting the 2019-20 campaign with seven of their first nine games in the East Bay, a return home was embraced by the Fightin’ Irish, who got 35 points from Ray John Spears in an 84-77 victory over the Wildcats.
“After the game, I think he had 25 people give him a hug,” head coach Sean MacKay said. “I’m an East Bay guy, but I forget some of these guys are from the City, so it was good for them to get back home.”
There were surely plenty more people who wanted to celebrate with Spears beyond his family, as the sophomore’s brilliance helped extend the three-sport Bruce-Mahoney series to the baseball game in the spring. Having lost the football game in September, SHC had to win Friday night’s game to prolong the series to the spring for a third year in a row.
“Everybody’s got hope in us now,” Spears said. “Everyone was doubting us, but now everyone’s gonna stick with us.”
With an 18-point halftime advantage and 57-32 lead early in the third quarter, that victory seemed like a sure thing for Sacred Heart Cathedral (5-5, 1-0 WCAL) as the Irish blasted SI in transition. Spears scored 13 in the first quarter alone, which his team closed on a 10-0 run to take a 21-15 lead. That continued with the first four points of the second, including a Spears putback, and SHC would knock down four of 3-pointers in the quarter, including one from Kori McCoy to go up 41-21. With the roster finally at full strength, Xavier Coloyan came off the bench to hit one and Miles Jones knocked down a pair after faking Wildcat defenders out with stepback moves.
“We haven’t been a full unit in a couple weeks,” Jones said.
Hebert Rivas came in off the bench as well, having missed his last seven games with an ankle injury. Darnay McPherson had missed three with a groin injury, McCoy had missed three and Kyle Crawford was out sick for two. Returning to a bench role after starting through much of December didn’t seem to bother Jones, though.
“Coach asked me to come in and be a senior leader,” the senior guard said. “I had to put the team first and not worry about my minutes.”
The lead grew all the way to 25 in the third as Spears finished off an alley-oop layup from McPherson and hit two free throws with 3:08 left in the quarter, and a dunk by Jones seemed to quash any momentum St. Ignatius (5-6, 0-1) had picked up on a Malcolm McCray-Hill basket and 3-pointer by freshman point guard King-Jhsanni Wilhite. Like any good rivalry game, though, no lead was truly insurmountable.
SI came back with tremendous fervor over the final 10 minutes, with the final six points of the third as McCray-Hill, who scored 18 of his career-high 22 in the second half, threw down an alley-oop from Daniel Webster. His and-1 cut the lead to 67-53 with 5:21 left, and four straight points by Wilhite got the Wildcats within nine with three minutes to go. Webster, who had scored just two points in the first three quarters, drained back-to-back threes to cut it to 74-69 after a pair of Spears free throws, and even though a Tyrice Ivy Jr. putback would get the Irish up seven again, Wilhite knocked down his fourth and final 3-pointer to get SI within four for the first time since the first quarter.
The Irish would indeed finish it off, though, using the same speed in transition that got them ahead in the first place. Crawford found McPherson with his sixth and final assist to make it 78-72, but the Wildcats would get two more free throws from Wilhite, who scored a team-high 27, and one from McCray-Hill to get within three with 1:02 left. Rather than try to run the clock down, SHC kept the jets turned up, with Ivy breaking free in transition and scoring through heavy contact. He’d miss the free throw that would have completed an and-1, but Spears made four from the line in the final minute to ice the game.
SHC’s speed in transition was no surprise for SI, but it still managed to define the game despite the Wildcats doing all they could to prepare for it.
“We talked about it for four days in practice,” St. Ignatius head coach Rob Marcaletti said. “We got a little lost in some of our matchups, and some of it was off of turnovers. It killed us, and we’re better than that.”
It’ll be no easier for the Wildcats in their next outing as they head to Serra on Tuesday for the Jungle Game. Still, their fourth-quarter run was full of encouraging signs.
“We learned a lot,” Marcaletti said. “I’m proud of the way the guys fought back.”
Wilhite’s seemingly boundless talent helped will SI back along with senior leadership from McCray-Hill and Webster, who finished with 13 points. Aside from the eight points from Jones and three by McCoy, it was largely younger players who led the Irish. Ivy, a junior, finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds, including nine on the offensive glass. McPherson scored 12 and Crawford finished with 11.
SHC will face another crosstown rival on Tuesday with a home game against Riordan.