SAN FRANCISCO — Serra’s West Catholic Athletic League slate opened with a warm chorus of boos from the St. Ignatius fans at McCullough Gymnasium.
This was music to Padres head coach Chuck Rapp, who was coaching his first WCAL game since 2018-19.
“That felt good,” Rapp said. “It’s good to be back. It feels good to be back at SI booed. There’s something kind of refreshing about that.”
The Padres (1-0 WCAL, 8-2 overall) responded with a fast start and never trailed en route to a 59-44 victory over the Wildcats in Thursday night’s WCAL opener. Not that it was a fair matchup.
While Serra was without three players due to COVID protocols, the Padres had their entire starting five intact. The same cannot be said for St. Ignatius, as the Wildcats were missing six players, including three starters. Among them were the team’s two starting big men in the post.
The Padres took advantage of the obvious height advantage. In the early going, senior center Garret Keyhani, at 6-8, drew swarms of double- and triple-team defenders every time the Padres fed him the ball low in the post. The defensive approach ultimately worked to contain Keyhani — only to open the outside looks for Serra’s perimeter shooters.
And they came out dialed.
“We like to do that — pound inside and attack outside,” Rapp said. “It’s like controlling the line of scrimmage in football. You run the ball, run the ball, then they bring in the safeties and you go long. Our theory is, we attack, attack and suck ’em in, then we can go long for 3s.”
Keyhani still had a productive night, going for a double-double with 12 points, 13 rebounds and four dynamic blocked shots.
But it was senior guard Miles Klapper who paced the offense, scoring a game-high 24 points. Serra shot 51.2% from the field throughout.
“I think it was definitely a good shooting night compared to what we’ve had in the preseason,” Klapper said. “I think that starts with just moving the ball around. Obviously, Garret was drawing so much attention in the post, it kind of opened everything up on the outside.”
Klapper hit an early 3 as Serra jumped out to a 9-2 lead. But St. Ignatius did not go quietly. Senior guard Zachary Ferdon responded with a sharpshooting start to the second quarter. The Wildcats were 4-of-9 shooting in the period, with Ferdon hitting three of those shots.
Ferdon knocked down a pair of 3s to close it to 26-18. He followed by nearly tabbing another three-point play, scoring an impressive layup while losing his feet by slipping on some court moisture, getting fouled as he fell to the floor, and hitting the shot to make it 26-20. Ferdon missed the free throw, though, to keep it at 26-20.
Then came a pivotal inside-out look to Klapper, who took aim for a perimeter 3. The shot looked good out of his hand, but stoked some drama by swirling the rim before going in.
“That was a big shot,” Rapp said. “It felt like when we needed a big shot, Klapper hit it. And he can do that. He’s s good player, and that’s what good players do.”
But the Wildcats (0-1, 9-2) made it interesting in the closing minutes. With just under four minutes to go, St. Ignatius junior guard Kreekor Karageuzian scrapped for an offensive rebound and kicked the pass out to the corner for Tyler Kelly, who poured in a 3 to close the deficit to 45-41.
Serra was simply too dominant on the glass though, outrebounding St. Ignatius 36-15.
St. Ignatius head coach Jason Greenfield said the problem was not so much the missing rebounds, but more the missing points due to the absent personnel. The Wildcats shot just 31.9% from the floor, including 5 of 21 from 3-point territory.
“It was more the offense,” Greenfield said. “We were basically missing 40 points. We made up 20 of it but we couldn’t get over the hump.”
Serra closed it out on a 14-3 run thanks to some tremendous free throw shooting down the stretch. The Padres were 12 of 14 from the stripe in the closing period, including Klapper hitting a perfect 6 of 6.
In terms of the pandemic, Greenfield was adamant the playing of the game — in front of 500 fans, no less — was never in doubt, despite taking place in San Francisco. This week, the Peninsula Athletic League suspended the start of league basketball games for a week. The WCAL left the decisions to its schools individually.
“The WCAL wants to play basketball, which is great because they care about kids,” Greenfield said. “The city and anybody else, I’m not so sure. I don’t think this game was ever in threat of being canceled from the standpoint of the two coaches weren’t going to get their teams on the floor.”
Serra guard Ryan Pettis was testament to the upside of playing ball. The sophomore was productive with nine points and nine rebounds and reveled in the chance to play in front of a big crowd for the first time in his varsity career.
“It’s great because I’m a sophomore, it’s all new to me,” Pettis said. “And I haven’t played in front of a big crowd since before COVID.”