On a cold Tuesday night in San Francisco, the third-seeded St. Ignatius Wildcats hosted the No. 13 seed Clovis North-Fresno for the state CIF Northern Regional Division I title. After having won their previous three games by a combined ten points, the Broncos were no stranger to winning tight games on the road. They faced a formidable Wildcat squad that held off a late comeback to top No. 2 seed Inderkum, 69-67 in the semifinals and had only lost two games in their gym during the season. In a game that was always bound to go down to the wire, it was the Broncos who displayed incredible poise under pressure to beat the Wildcats in a nail biter, 58-56.
“I think we have a lot of resiliency,” said Bronco coach Tony Amundsen. “We handle adversity, we stay together, and we stay connected. No matter what, we just compete till the end. Our guys showed what they were made of today.”
Down 44-50 with just 5:55 remaining in the game, the chances of the Broncos season continuing seemed bleak. Then sophomore Connor Amundsen took over. Amundsen caused the SI defense problems all night, with a crossover followed by a jumper that was so predictable yet so effective. Staring at a six point deficit, Amundsen found his way to the line, where he converted both shots from the line then seconds later turned a steal into a triple to cut the deficit to just one. As the teams struggled to score, Amundsen found the ball in his hands yet again with 45 seconds left and a tie game. He took a breath, went for his crossover, and rose up to sink the game-winning shot with 35 seconds left.
“I had it up top, tie game, I knew we needed a bucket.” said Connor Amundsen. “My teammates got me in a good spot, and I got the jump shot. I was just calm, in the moment, just doing what I know how to do.”
Trailing for the majority of the second half, the Broncos had to fight an uphill battle to end up with the win. Amundsen was aided by fellow sophomore Jordan Espinosa’s 14 point effort, as the duo kept the scoreboard ticking even when their odds looked bleak. Despite numerous SI runs, the Broncos always seemed to have an answer on the other end to keep themselves in the game.
“I think we just stayed the course of the game,” said Tony Amundsen. “We just kept doing what we were doing. We just wanted to clean up some of our errors, and tried to capitalize of theirs to score some baskets”
The highlight for the ‘Cats, as usual, was junior center John Squire. Squire led the way for SI, with 18 points and a whopping 20 boards. His numerous offensive rebounds paved the way for invaluable second chance points, allowing the ‘Cats to erase an early deficit and build their lead. But ultimately an abundance of turnovers did the ‘Cats in, as their season ended in heartbreak.
SI struggled with the Broncos half court press all night, having to turn on their inner quarterback all too often to advance the ball past half court. The Broncos forced an absurd amount of 10-second violations and steals, essential to their comeback.
“We want to pressure teams,” said Tony Amundsen. “Make them uncomfortable, get after them, and push the ball. We want to play fast paced.”
It’ll be a hard loss to forget for the ‘Cats, as they’ll mull over those final seconds for a long time to come. After losing their six point lead in a matter of a minute, the ‘Cats found themselves trailing by two with nearly no time left on the clock. Only a moment of brilliance could take the Wildcats to the finish line. Two timeouts later, a pass was fired to sharpshooter
GC Toledo-Rivera in the corner, but his shot over two defenders sailed far too long, sending the Broncos into a frenzy.
After clinching the NorCal title, the Broncos will go on to face the Southern Regional Division 1 champs, SoCal top-seeded Damien-La Verne for the state title in what is bound to be an exciting matchup this Friday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.