With the exception of the first quarter, Friday night’s Central Coast Section (CCS) Open Division Pool Play opener between the Serra Padres and St. Ignatius Wildcats was a lot like Tuesday night’s Jungle Game.
The host Padres bullied the Wildcats physically in the second quarter, hit a clutch three to seize momentum late in the third and pulled away in the fourth en route to a 63-44 win in the playoff opener for both teams.
“They hit us early, and we were pissed off,” said center Seamus Gilmartin, who dominated for a second straight game. “We don’t like losing to these guys.”
Gilmartin, who had 12 points and eight rebounds, was the one repeat contributor from Tuesday’s win. While Ryan Pettis played an electrifying second half in Tuesday’s regular season finale, Friday belonged to Pinewood transfer Andrew McDowell and Marcel Elicagaray.
McDowell scored nine of his season-high 13 points in the second quarter, attacking the offensive glass with reckless abandon, and Elicagaray’s ankle-breaking 3-pointer late in the third opened up an 11-point lead and set the stage for Serra (15-10) to pull away in the fourth.
Despite allowing fifth-seeded St. Ignatius (13-12) to jump out to a 20-10 lead after a quarter, Serra led by as much as 22 in the final minutes. Backup guard Alex Stickel, who had missed most of the last two months with a knee injury, capped off the night with a pair of 3-pointers in the final minutes to send the crowd into hysterics.
The 19-3 second quarter sent the Padres into halftime up six. The hosts didn’t make a 3-pointer during that quarter, but they grabbed six offensive rebounds, three of which came from Gilmartin.
“You kinda expect them to fix their mistakes, but we were crashing the boards hard, and they still had a hard time boxing us out,” Gilmartin said.
SI led 22-14 after a Raymond Whitley drive to the basket, but Serra closed the half on a 15-1 run. Gilmartin’s putback cut the lead to three, McDowell’s putback put the Padres in front for the first time and Gilmartin made a pair of free throws with 2:48 left in the quarter to give the hosts a lead they’d never relinquish.
“Over the offseason, me and (head coach Chuck) Rapp were in the gym,” said Gilmartin, who was a perfect 8-of-8 at the line. “He was helping me with my shot and my form.”
McDowell also made two free throws with 2:16 left in the quarter to put his team up 27-23.
“It was hard to get into (the system) at the start,” the junior said. “Coach Rapp was getting on me about defensive positioning because that's something I had never really learned.”
Pettis’ steal and dunk capped off the second quarter. Though the Wildcats played far better defense in the third, they could never generate enough offensive momentum to get it back to a two-possession game after Gilmartin opened the third quarter with two more free throws.
“We just went away from the game plan,” St. Ignatius head coach Jason Greenfield said. “They upped their intensity and their pressure, and we stopped doing what we were doing to score.”
After JV call-up Vince Crisp closed the first quarter with his first career points on a buzzer-beater from behind half-court, the Wildcats scored just six points in the next 14 minutes. Whitley’s and-1 with 1:09 left in the third cut the lead to 37-29, but McDowell promptly scored at the other end, and Elicagaray answered another Whitley basket with a backbreaking 3-pointer that he set up by crossing up a St. Ignatius JV call-up playing his first varsity game.
“My teammates are getting me the ball in all the right spots, and at that point, I’m just a system shooter,” Elicagaray said of his shot, which put Serra up 42-31.
Elicagaray scored just two points in the first 23 minutes of the game but finished with 13, matching McDowell for the team lead. Pettis scored nine points, including seven in the first half.
A Theo Lamb steal and Whitley layup had the Wildcats trailing just 42-35 early in the fourth quarter, but Serra countered with a 15-2 run that put the game out of reach, including two more Elicagaray 3-pointers.
The two teams have now faced off four times this season, with Serra winning all four. The Padres also won an 82-78 shootout at Marin Catholic's Bambauer Classic in December and erased a late 14-point deficit in the Sunset District in January.
Whitley led St. Ignatius with 23 points, but had little help. Fellow freshman Caeden Hutcherson scored seven, and no other teammate scored more than five.
“He’s a great player,” Rapp said of Whitley. “For a freshman, he plays so much older. He’s so strong. I thought we did a decent job staying in front of him, and he just kind of bullied us down.”
The Wildcats do expect to receive a boost when they travel to No. 1 Mitty (21-4) on Monday with the likely return of freshman Steele Labagh (concussion), who was in uniform on Friday night but didn’t play. Serra hosts eighth-seeded Santa Cruz (22-4) on Monday. Mitty beat the Cardinals on Friday night, 63-51, behind 25 points from Princeton commit Derek Sangster.
CCS Open Division pool play concludes on Wednesday, with the winners of each pool meeting on Friday night at Santa Clara University for the championship.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]