After winning just a single league game in each of the last two seasons, Wednesday night was what the Sacred Heart Cathedral girls basketball team had been waiting for.
The Fightin’ Irish overcame cold shooting in the first half to beat the St. Ignatius Wildcats 54-36, evening up the Bruce-Mahoney Series at two games apiece, ensuring that the March 25 baseball game between the two schools will decide the trophy.
Yes, the SHC girls had already posted their share of big wins this season. But to do it in front of nearly 3,000 fans, including many of their classmates and teachers? That’s a game that means something to more than just the players.
“This is the game that great-grandma comes to,” head coach Demetrius Jackson said following the victory. “It’s something that the players on both teams will remember for the rest of their lives.”
After being stuck in the mud for the first half, Sacred Heart Cathedral (16-2, 4-1 West Catholic Athletic League) closed the third quarter on a 14-3 run and pulled away by closing the game on an 19-5 surge, not behind one individual player but with a balanced team attack. No member of the SHC roster finished with more than 15 points, but six of the seven girls that saw the floor for the Fightin’ Irish scored at least five points. Even the one who didn’t score, backup guard Aniyah Versosa, dished out three assists.
If there was one player to stand out for SHC during the decisive run, though, it was Reza Po. The 5-foot-3 junior guard finished with a line that doesn’t jump off the page—eight points, six rebounds and four assists—but was involved at every critical juncture.
It was Po who hit a 3-pointer to put her team up 30-24 late in the third quarter, a shot she followed up by drawing a charge at the other end, and it was a Po 3-pointer that sparked the 19-5 run to end the game. She also had back-to-back assists on baskets by sophomore forward Madison Eade to put the Irish up by double digits.
"As much as I’m sure she would have liked to shoot better, she’s learning how to be a complete basketball player and point guard and impact the game with more than just scoring,” Jackson said of Po. “Last year, she was a volume scorer. Now, she’s breaking the press with the dribble and the pass, and she’s a distributor.”
Po provided the exclamation point in the final minute, crossing up a defender and rebounding her own missed shot to set up a Kiana Moniz 3-pointer.
Both sides struggled to shoot for much of the night, save for senior guard Leilani Blecha, who knocked down three of SHC’s six 3-pointers and scored a team-high 15 points.
“We were getting good shots, but they weren’t falling until late,” Jackson said. “That said, hats off to SI. They played hard. They threw a matchup zone and 1-2-2 out there.”
Brigette Mahoney (no relation to SHC alumnus Jerry Mahoney, one of the trophy’s two namesakes) scored a game-high 16 points for St. Ignatius (9-9, 2-3), including 14 in the first half.
“We were able to keep them off the free throw line in the second half moreso than we did in the first half,” Jackson commented. “We all wanted to make an adjustment defensively with our effort, our presence and finishing our defensive possessions.”
Mahoney scored every point in the first quarter to give the Wildcats a 10-9 lead, then delivered the last four points of the second, including a pair of free throws with 1.7 on the clock, to send SI into halftime down 19-17. Sophomore Meaghan Manning scored the first five points of the third quarter to put the ‘Cats up 22-19, but they mustered just 14 points the rest of the way.
"We just need to take care of the ball better,” head coach Maya Fok said. “We just needed a few less turnovers and a few more buckets.”
Of the 36 SI points, only half came from seniors—the 16 by Mahoney and two from Emmie Ennis, who also pulled down seven rebounds despite missing much of the past month with multiple ankle injuries.
“It was great to have her fire,” Fok said of Ennis, who’s committed to play soccer, not basketball, at Saint Mary’s. “She’s always gonna fight no matter what. We love to have Emmie on the court.”
Similarly, only two seniors scored for the Fightin’ Irish. Blecha dropped in her 15 and center Malea Scobie scored six. Scobie was credited with just two rebounds, but her clean box-outs opened the door for guards to rebound and spark the transition offense. Moniz, who scored 13 points off the bench for SHC, had a game-high nine rebounds.
Freshman Sophia Sanchez chipped in seven points for the Wildcats, with a free throw late in the third quarter and her team’s first six points in the fourth. Sanchez’s back-to-back layups cut the lead to 35-31 before the decisive 19-5 run. Fellow freshman Hayley McGee scored five, but the Wildcat offense was hampered by the absence of top freshman scorer Julia Alcantara, who missed the game after spraining her ankle in Friday’s practice. She’s currently considered day-to-day.
Both teams kick off the second half of WCAL play on Saturday. The Fightin’ Irish host St. Francis (9-8, 2-3), while SI travels to nationally-ranked Mitty (17-2, 5-0).
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]