West Ranch Wildcat boys’ basketball escaped Friday night’s home Open Division playoff matchup with a win over the St. John Bosco Braves.
The Wildcats were up two points, when Bosco freshman Brandon McCoy stole an inbound pass from West Ranch center Jazz Gardner. The 7-footer made up for the turnover immediately with a clutch block that set up an Andrew Meadow and-one to seal the game.
The Braves hit a 3-pointer before time expired but fell in their playoff opener, 55-53.
Meadow led the way for West Ranch (28-1) with 17 points in his Open Division debut.
The Cats took some time to find their groove in a defensive battle. West Ranch put up only eight points in the first quarter and wound up down by a near double-digit margin.
The Wildcats sprung to life with a 9-0 run, their first of two big runs in the game, and went into halftime all even at 24-24. Cats head coach Jeff Bryant saw his team start slow but eventually take over the game.
“It was just the will to win,” Bryant said. “We understand the importance of winning each and every game and we didn’t want to go down. We’ve worked too hard to get to this point and lose the first game.”
Both teams exchanged 3-point buckets before West Ranch stole the momentum again. The Cats rode a 10-0 run and finished the third quarter with a 43-35 lead. However, West Ranch knows all too well how quickly things can change in the final minutes of a game.
The fourth quarter was a defensive battle with no field goals being scored until nearly halfway through the period. Cats point guard Darrell Morris exited the game in the third quarter with an injury but returned to action to help West Ranch’s defensive efforts. Fellow Wildcat guard Carson Yahata also drew a charge during the defensive bout to keep his team ahead.
The Braves (24-5) started chipping away at the lead and eventually a Xinyi Li 3-ball made it a one-point contest. West Ranch then hit back-to-back scores under the basket to force a Bosco timeout.
St. John Bosco missed a handful of 3-pointers before Jack Turner drilled one from way downtown to cut the lead to two. West Ranch two-guard Jaqari Miles hit two clutch free throws to nearly seal it before Gardner’s game-saving block.
Miles finished with 12 points, five rebounds and three assists. Gardner totaled nine points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
West Ranch has felt confident all year. The team has played top-level competition from around the country and amassed only one loss. The Cats have a plethora of standout shooters and if they can win a game like this, shooting as poorly as they did, West Ranch is in a good spot moving forward.
“I think we were definitely very ready,” Meadow said. “The first quarter we came out a little shaky, but we picked things up in the second half and in the second quarter. I think some big games, like in Vegas and Damien, really helped us prepare for these tough moments.”
West Ranch now moves to 1-0 in Pool B. Bryant was ecstatic to win the game and silence the critics.
“Pretty much every media writer felt like we were going to get upset tonight because we’re not battle-tested, and they say because we don’t play a tough league. But I just wanted to come out here and prove them wrong.”
The win on Friday marked the team’s first Open Division win and appearance in school history. Confidence has never been an issue for the Wildcats, but the win still holds some meaning.
“It means a lot,” Meadow said. “I think it’s a cool accomplishment. But like I said, we got to just come back in on Tuesday and be ready for the next one. We can’t get too high or we can get too low.”
St. John Bosco will now head to Harvard-Westlake while the Wildcats will remain at home to play St. Bernard on Tuesday, in the second games of Open Division pool play.
For West Ranch, the Tuesday matchup holds more than just its ticket to an Open Division championship. The Cats will look to take revenge on St. Bernard, which knocked West Ranch out of the playoffs last year.