The West Ranch Wildcats boys’ basketball season officially ended on Wednesday after a heartbreaking road loss to the St. Augustine Saints.
West Ranch battled and led for the majority of the game but the Saints just managed to pull enough at the end. St. Augustine missed a one-plus-one free throw attempt, which was pulled down by Cats center Jazz Gardner. Shooting guard Jaqari Miles found a solid look at the basket from around midcourt and just missed a potential game-tying 3-ball, lifting the Saints to a 63-60 victory.
The Saints (28-4) took a quick 11-4 lead in the game before the Wildcats (29-3) settled in. West Ranch notched a one-point lead at the end of the first quarter and nearly led for the rest of the game.
The Wildcats controlled the game for the majority of the contest in one of the craziest and loudest environments Cats head coach Jeff Bryant can remember.
Bryant’s game plan was clear: work the ball inside and find favorable shots in the post. Bryant was pleased with his senior front court of Andrew Meadow and Gardner battling in their last high school game.
“Andrew is a player that we won’t see again for the next 10 years,” Bryant said. “Going to elementary, junior high, playing four years for his high school and going to a D1 college. He could have easily gone to a powerhouse private school, but he stayed here and did it the traditional way, and I think it paid off for him. He did all he could do for West Ranch but it’s time for him to move on and move to college.”
Meadow will continue his playing career at Boise State, where he’s set to make an immediate impact.
Seniors Gardner and Miles are yet to commit but will continue playing collegiately one way or another. Gardner is sitting on offers from Kansas, Texas Tech and Houston, to name a few.
Miles will find his collegiate destination soon enough as one of the state’s best sharpshooters.
The seniors have now set the bar high for West Ranch but Bryant is confident his 2023-24 squad will find a way to meet the standards.
“I’ll be back. We’ll be back. West Ranch will be back,” Bryant said. “We have set the bar high and we’ll look to continue that.”
The team was crushed after the loss. However, Bryant knows his team has nothing to hang their heads over after the remarkable year for West Ranch basketball.
“We were hurt because we had three goals in mind: win league, get into the Open Division, and win an Open Division championship. But these losses to Harvard-Westlake and St. Augustine, it doesn’t define our season or team. West Ranch is known across the globe now. We did something special this year. Being ranked top 25 in the country, we have nothing to hang our heads over. I don’t think any other public schools could have reached the point we reached.”