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Serra, St. Ignatius dazzle Marin with West Catholic Athletic League tuneup

The Serra defense tries to collapse on St. Ignatius center John Squire (24) during the second quarter of a non-league basketball game in Kentfield on Dec. 29, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Marin got a taste of what makes the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) so special.

Rivals Serra and St. Ignatius met in an unprecedented December battle on the final day of the 26th Bambauer Classic, and the Padres left Marin Catholic’s tournament with an 82-78 win in the 5th Place Game.

This was no ordinary 5th Place Game, though. Fifth place carries far more weight in a 16-team tournament, where Serra (7-3) won three of four games, losing only to University on Tuesday. St. Ignatius (6-4) finishes the tournament with a pair of wins and a pair of losses, falling to eventual champion Folsom on Tuesday while picking up wins against Heritage and Miramonte.

Even without the typical packed house, it was a classic display of what makes the rivalry between the two schools so special. The lead changed hands three times late in the third quarter after the Wildcats rallied from a 13-point deficit, and tempers flared as Serra held on down the stretch.

SI head coach Jason Greenfield exchanged words with Serra guard Tommaso Leveroni late in the third quarter, and Wildcats freshman Steele Labagh was assessed a technical foul a minute later after an exchange with Padres point guard Ryan Pettis.

Serra point guard Ryan Pettis (2) walks down the court during a non-league basketball game against St. Ignatius in Kentfield on Dec. 29, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Pettis capped off his phenomenal four-day performance by scoring 28 for the Padres, and was deservedly named to the All-Tournament Team.

“He’s worked on his game a lot,” head coach Chuck Rapp said. “He makes sure he lands where he leaves, and he centers himself on his shot. He’s a great shooter, and he’s dead-eye when when he settles himself.”

St. Ignatius trailed 33-20 late in the first half but cut the deficit to seven before the break with an 8-2 run, then pulled ahead on a Labagh steal and layup with just over three minutes left in the third quarter. They led 53-48 after a putback by freshman Raymond Whitley, but Serra finished the quarter on an 11-2 run, including a go-ahead 3-pointer by Alton Robenalt, two Pettis free throws after the technical and a 3-pointer by Mikey Ballout just before the buzzer.

Ballout, a sophomore, wasn’t supposed to even be on the roster after Serra’s football season ended, allowing the likes of Seamus Gilmartin and Joey Villaroman to return. He scored 61 over the four-day tournament, including 18 in Thursday’s finale.

“I brought Mikey up just to fill a spot, and he ended up being our third-leading scorer in non-league play,” Rapp said. “We just needed an extra guy while we didn’t have our football players and Marcel (Elicagaray) was coming back from an injury.”

Pettis kept Serra in front throughout the fourth quarter, scoring his team’s first 10 points including a three from NBA range to put the Padres up 71-65. His exceptional pass to Ballout for a layup made it 77-69, and though Marcus Bast answered with a 3-pointer at the other end moments later, the gap was wide enough for Serra to hold on as the Padres went 5-for-5 at the line in the final 102 seconds.

The 160 combined points was by far the highest total for any game between the Padres and Wildcats in the last two decades. In their three 2022 meetings, they averaged a total of 106.7.

“When I look at the clock, I usually look at the differential, so I don’t really focus on how many points,” Rapp said. “But when the game was over, I looked up and said, ‘Holy smokes, we’ve got 80 points.’ So much for all our defensive drills we do every day. We’re gonna have to get some new defensive drills, but it was a good offensive output.”

Serra shot 13-for-19 from 3-point range. Pettis sank four 3-pointers, Ballout drained three and Elicagaray and Aidan Carleson each made two. Carleson finished with 14 points and five assists.

“We hadn’t shot the ball well all three days in this tournament, so I had a feeling we were due for a good one,” Rapp said.

Pepperdine commit John Squire and freshman Caeden Hutcherson led the Wildcats with 16 points apiece. Whitley and Bast each scored 13, Labagh chipped in 12 and Kreekor Karageuzian, who recently announced his commitment to Division III Vassar College, added eight.

The freshman trio of Hutcherson, Labagh and Whitley were moved into the starting lineup after Tuesday’s loss to Folsom.

“Awesome experience for the freshmen,” head coach Jason Greenfield said. “They felt a WCAL environment in a foreign place. We did better than I thought we were going to. You never feel good about a loss, but I feel good about our effort.”

The Wildcats open WCAL play on Jan. 4 at home against Riordan (7-2), while Serra hosts Sacred Heart Cathedral (6-4). The teams will meet at St. Ignatius for the Beach Game on Jan. 24, then reconvene at Serra on Feb. 14 for the Jungle Game, which will double as the Padres’ Senior Night.