Two of the brightest stars from Serra’s Northern California championship football team made their impact on the hardwood on Tuesday night.
Tight end Seamus Gilmartin posted a double-double and slot receiver Joey Villaroman, who had missed the prior two basketball seasons with consecutive knee surgeries, had four crucial points and seven rebounds as the Padres beat the St. Ignatius Wildcats 69-52 in the annual Jungle Game, one of the school’s most important annual events.
“The energy’s crazy, so it’s hard not to play the best you can,” said Gilmartin, who’s going to play football at Harvard after he graduates from high school.
Gilmartin scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half to help Serra (14-10, 7-7 West Catholic Athletic League) out to a 32-17 lead, and Villaroman, playing increased minute with backup center Angelo Ghattas sidelined by a pulled thigh muscle, delivered arguably the biggest basket of the night late in the third quarter after St. Ignatius (13-11, 7-7) had gone on a 7-0 run.
“That’s what you want to see,” Serra head coach Chuck Rapp said. “A senior on Senior Night in the Jungle Game.”
Freshman Caeden Hutcherson scored six straight points for the Wildcats on transition layups, the last of which was set up by a block from fellow freshman Raymond Whitley, to cut the lead to 40-32, injecting life into the visiting bench and student section.
Villaroman answered the call at the other end, taking a Marcel Elicagaray pass and finishing a contested layup around a defender. Elicagaray also assisted on Ryan Pettis’ elbow jumper that put the Padres up 44-32, and Pettis hit a corner three off a feed from Alex Naber, who had transferred from SI before the season, to put Serra up 49-35 at the buzzer.
The ball movement displayed throughout the 9-3 run to end the third quarter was a constant for Serra in the second half. Of the Padres’ 16 field goals across the final two quarters, 15 were preceded by an assist.
“Every time you get 20-plus assists, you win by 20,” Rapp said. “That’s kind of been the Serra staple.”
No individual player had more than four assists for Serra, but the Padres recorded 23 assists as a team against nine turnovers, culminating in their largest Jungle Game victory since 2015. The lead grew to 25 when Enzo Fiore fed Villaroman inside before the Wildcats scored the final eight points of the game, with Hutcherson hitting a pair of threes to conclude his game-high 23-point performance.
Serra previously beat the Wildcats by four at Marin Catholic’s Bambauer Classic in December, then pulled off a dramatic 14-point fourth quarter comeback three weeks ago.
Whitley scored 19 for the Wildcats, but no other player mustered more than four points. St. Ignatius was without freshman Steele Labagh (concussion) for a second consecutive game.
“Steele makes a lot of rotations,” St. Ignatius head coach Jason Greenfield said. “We made a lot of mental mistakes. We didn’t rebound that well, and every time we made a move and got close, we gave up a three or gave up an offensive rebound.”
Pettis led Serra with 19 points, scoring all but three across the final two quarters. Elicagaray and Aidan Carleson each added 11.
While the clinical display of team basketball in the second half ensured a comfortable Senior Night win for the Padres, the first half was dominated by Gilmartin. After a Hutcherson 3-pointer had cut Serra’s lead to 19-15, he scored on three straight putbacks to put the home side up by double digits.
“I think he’s starting to get his basketball sea legs under him,” Rapp said. “Football was so long, and he was banged up. It took him a while to get into basketball shape. He gives us a huge boost.”
Serra closed the first half on a 13-3 run, with sophomore Alton Robenalt knocking down a 3-pointer off a Gilmartin assist. Robenalt finished with six points and four assists to help the Padres close out their third straight victory.
“We're finally starting to catch a groove here, and I think it's at the perfect time," Elicagaray said.
There’s a distinct possibility the Wildcats and Padres meet again in the Central Coast Section (CCS) Open Division Playoffs, as they did in each of the prior two years. St. Ignatius won each of those two previous postseason meetings, including a 50-48 victory last year despite getting swept in the regular season.
“I try not to worry about things I can’t control,” Rapp said. “We’ll go wherever they tell us, and we’ll try to beat whoever it is.”
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]