If the St. Ignatius student section chanted “he’s a freshman” every time one of Caeden Hutcherson, Steele Labagh or Raymond Whitley scored, they would have never stopped.
The trio combined for 47 of the Wildcats’ 78 points in a 78-58 Bruce-Mahoney Game win over Sacred Heart Cathedral before 3,000 fans at USF’s War Memorial Gym on Tuesday night.
“Once they got comfortable, the energy propelled them,” head coach Jason Greenfield said. “They made big shot after big shot.”
A crowd that would rattle most freshmen simply fed their confidence as the night went on. St. Ignatius (8-5, 2-1 West Catholic Athletic League) led 36-30 at halftime, then went on a 16-0 run to take a 52-32 lead, with 13 of those points coming from the freshmen. The Fightin’ Irish countered with a 7-0 run of their own to get back to within 13 on a Fed Pernell and-1, but Marcus Bast connected on a 3-pointer off one of Whitley’s five assists to send the Wildcats into the fourth up 57-41.
“When me, Caeden and Steele talked about coming (to St. Ignatius), we had this marked on our schedule,” said Whitley, who had a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds. “We love this type of environment.”
Whitley then scored the first six SI points of the fourth quarter and followed that up with a fancy assist to Theo Lamb, who played most of the final period with Pepperdine commit John Squire nursing an ankle injury. Hutcherson then scored eight of his 17, with back-to-back 3-pointers extending the lead to 73-49. Before the second of those, Hutcherson tried to throw down a one-handed dunk, but missed, only for Bast to grab the rebound and feed him for another three.
“They’re pretty talented, and they’ll be even better when they start listening,” Greenfield joked.
Even when the Wildcats disregarded Greenfield’s advice, they made the right plays. With Greenfield urging his team to slow the pace down in the final minutes, Labagh put up a 3-pointer early in the shot clock. Naturally, it went in.
“Players make plays. We try to put them in a position to succeed, but the players make the plays,” Greenfield said.
The win gives SI a 2-1 lead in the annual Bruce-Mahoney series. The Wildcats will have an opportunity to retain the trophy if their girls team can beat the Fightin’ Irish on Jan. 25, when the schools return to USF.
War Memorial Gym is a familiar place for Greenfield, who served as USF’s Director of Analytics for the 2019-20 season. A few current and former Dons were in attendance Tuesday night, including Jamaree Bouyea, who’s in Northern California this week with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
“I was on the wrong (visiting) side of the bench, but it’s phenomenal,” Greenfield said of playing at USF. “I love this venue. It’s such a cozy, beautiful, fun place to play a game. I hope we’re here for years to come.”
Before Tuesday night, no Bruce-Mahoney basketball game had been played at USF since 2018. The prior four were played at Haas Pavilion, the Cow Palace, St. Ignatius (during the Covid season, with only parents in attendance) and Kezar Pavilion.
While the three freshmen are in position for plenty more Bruce-Mahoney memories, Tuesday was the last Bruce-Mahoney Game for Squire, a three-year starter. He finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds despite missing the final quarter.
“There’s no environment like this,” Squire said.
His putback gave the Wildcats a 42-32 lead, and after Sacred Heart Cathedral (7-5, 1-1) missed at the other end, the Wildcats got four straight offensive rebounds before Squire was fouled.
“We stopped rebounding, and once you give a team two or three chances to get a basket, they’re gonna take advantage,” SHC head coach Caesar Smith said.
Squire’s assist to Whitley started the fateful 16-0 run, and Hutcherson followed with a putback. Two Labagh free throws with 3:52 left in the third made it 45-32, and after the Irish threw a ball out of bounds, Smith called a timeout.
It did little to stop the momentum. Hutcherson hit a 3-pointer out of the break, and SHC turned it over two more times, setting up layups for Whitley and Hutcherson.
Hutcherson finished with 17 points and seven rebounds despite scoring just two in the first half.
“In the first and second quarter, things weren’t going my way, and I had a bit of bad body language, but my teammates were there to pick me up and I was able to bounce back,” he said. “I was thinking about the team instead of myself, so that definitely brought me up.”
While Hutcherson had a quiet first half, Labagh and Squire got off to hot starts. Squire’s and-1 started a 10-0 run to give SI a 16-12 lead, a span that also included five points and a block from Labagh. Jerry Mixon Jr.’s and-1 cut the lead to 18-17, but Lamb hit a 3-pointer to close the quarter.
SI stretched the lead to 30-23 on an Elshawn Chung drive, but the Irish got within two on a Zemaury Erfe free throw with 2:03 left in the quarter. The Wildcats scored the next six to go up 36-28, but a Fed Pernell floater at the buzzer sent SHC into the locker room down by just six.
Mixon led SHC with 15 points, fueled by his perfect 7-of-7 performance at the line. Pernell scored 14, while RL Miller added nine.
Labagh, son of CCSF head coach Justin Labagh, a St. Ignatius alum himself, scored 12 and collected six rebounds. Lamb scored seven off the bench, while Bast finished with six points, five assists and four rebounds.
Confusion arose in the first half over a Zemaury Erfe shot that went in the official scorebook as a 3-pointer. Video from BAOSN.tv showed Erfe’s shot two minutes into the game was from well inside the 3-point line, but went in the official book as a 3. Ultimately, the shot had no effect on the outcome of the game. Erfe finished with six points.
St. Ignatius hosts St. Francis (8-4, 1-2) on Friday night, while Sacred Heart Cathedral travels to Mitty (11-2, 3-0). The Monarchs beat the Lancers in Mountain View on Tuesday night, 68-60.
The Fightin’ Irish and Wildcats will meet again at St. Ignatius on Jan. 31.
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