For the fourth time in less than a month, the Serra Padres clawed their way back into a game after facing a double-digit deficit in the second half.
Unlike the prior three times, they finished the job and won.
Serra rallied after trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter to beat the rival St. Ignatius Wildcats on the road Tuesday night in the annual Beach Game, 58-57. Aidan Carleson’s pair of free throws gave the Padres the lead with 8.8 seconds remaining, and SI freshman Raymond Whitley missed a free throw that would have tied it back up with 2.2 left.
“We’re a fourth quarter team,” said Marcel Elicagaray, who scored 12 of his game-high 18 points in the final quarter. “We go down early, and we come back.”
Ten of those points came during the 17-2 run that gave the Padres their first lead since the game’s first three minutes. Elicagaray sandwiched a pair of threes around a Steele Labagh basket, then followed up a Ryan Pettis drive with one of his own. Pettis then drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 51-48 with 3:40 remaining.
“It was like a wave building up,” Serra head coach Chuck Rapp said. "We started making shots, SI cooled down a little bit, and then we got stops. One thing led to another, and it was just kind of a little tsunami.”
Elicagaray stole an inbound pass, drew a foul and made two free throws to get Serra (9-7, 2-4 West Catholic Athletic League) within a point, and after Kreekor Karageuzian missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Alex Naber’s reverse layup put the Padres in front with 1:41 to go.
“It’s a very passionate game,” said Naber, who transferred from St. Ignatius to Serra over the summer. I know everybody on the bleachers, everybody on the other team. It’s a very competitive environment.“
Naber assisted on all three of Elicagaray’s field goals in the crucial run.
“He’s been a great addition,” Rapp said of Naber. “He’s a WCAL-type player. He plays hard, he competes and engages and he makes tough shots.”
Whitley’s drive through traffic put St. Ignatius (9-8, 3-4) on top once again 17 seconds later, but Elicagaray knocked down a long jumper with 1:04 left. Wildcats freshman Caeden Hutcherson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 52.6 left, and sophomore Alton Robenalt made a pair of free throws to put Serra ahead by three.
Fueled by a boisterous student section decked out in Hawaiian shirts, the Wildcats had one last push in them. Whitley’s 3-pointer with 36.9 left tied the game, but Serra set up to take the last shot. After Rapp called timeout with 11.5 left, Carleson received an inbound pass and, amidst a trio of SI defenders, drew a foul.
To that point, he had made just one of four free throw attempts, but he calmly sank both.
With no timeouts remaining, Whitley drove the length of the court and drew contact from Pettis. He made the first free throw, but missed the second after a timeout. Carleson grabbed the rebound, a jump ball was called with 0.3 on the clock and Serra was able to run the clock out with a simple inbound pass. Fittingly, the game ended with the ball in Elicagaray’s hands.
“Last year, I was playing behind (Miles) Klapper and Brady Smith. I learned a lot from them,” said Elicagaray, who tore his ACL and MCL in February. “This year is my time to become a leader of this team.”
“He’s a natural shooter,” Rapp added. “He’s a gym rat. He’s always out there. First on the floor, last out the door.”
St. Ignatius held a 29-18 halftime lead and stayed in front by double digits for most of the third quarter. Labagh’s steal led to a Kreekor Karageuzian layup just before the buzzer to send the ‘Cats into the fourth with a 44-33 lead, and Labagh’s 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter stretched the lead to 14.
The advantage sat at 49-35 after two Theo Lamb free throws with 6:23 remaining, but the hosts had a four-minute, 15-second scoreless drought between Labagh’s basket and Whitley’s drive to the hoop.
Between the timing of the drought and the size of the blown lead, Tuesday night’s loss bore strong resemblance to the Jan. 13 game against St. Francis. In both those games, the Wildcats were without Pepperdine commit John Squire, who injured his ankle in a Jan. 10 win over Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“When you lose arguably the best player in the league, you need to reassess what you’re trying to do,” St. Ignatius coach Jason Greenfield said. “We’ve got a good young team that’s gonna have ups and downs. We have to look at this as a process as opposed to game in and game out. Look, we wanna win and we all hate losing, but we’re gonna lose some before we learn to win.”
Hutcherson and Whitley each scored 17. Hutcherson had 14 of his team’s first 18 points, while Pettis, who also finished with 17, scored Serra’s first 10. Hutcherson’s transition layup off one of Karageuzian’s seven assists closed the first half; Karageuzian also scored eight points.
“We moved guys around on him,” Rapp said of how his team defended Hutcherson in the second half. “I thought we were maybe crowding him a little bit, so we gave him a yardstick to give him a step while still keeping guys in front of him.”
Carleson finished with nine points, including the two free throws that put his team in front for good. After starting WCAL play 0-4 for the first time since 2009, Serra has now won back-to-back games.
"We’re in a car; we’ve got full pedal to the metal,” Naber said. “We’re about to have a big blue problem on everyone’s hands.”
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