Seahawks find they’re built ‘Rambler tough’ after pushing 2-time reigning Hoopfest champs to limit

Loyola Academy's Bennett Kwiecinski denies CSN's Ryker Vance on a pivotal play late in Saturday night's Kelleher Firm Gulfshore Holiday Hoopfest semifinal at Golden Gate High School. The Seahawks thought Kwiecinski was guilty of goaltending on the play. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

The postseason is still six weeks away, but the Community School of Naples boys basketball team should consider themselves fit and ready for mid to late February and, if all goes well, the first week or so in March.

The same may go for the boys from Loyola Academy.

Neither team gave an inch as CSN’s Seahawks and Loyola’s Ramblers went at it for the full 32 late Saturday night during the second semifinal of the Kelleher Firm Gulfshore Holiday Hoopfest at Golden Gate High School.

The tournament’s two-time defending champion Ramblers (10-4) — an intense, in-your-face bunch from just north of Chicago — pulled out a 46-39 win, denying CSN the chance to become the first local team to win this event since 2014 when First Baptist Academy defeated host Golden Gate High School in all-Collier County final.

Still, CSN coach Greg Donahue was far from dejected about the tough loss.

“I told the team, ‘It was a great game, great high school game, (and) it was a pleasure to be a part of — to get to coach, you guys get to play in it, the fans enjoyed it,’” said Donahue, whose team will play Deerfield Beach (10-2) at noon on Sunday in the third-place game. “It came down to (this): they made a couple shots (and) we missed a couple shots. I’ve got nothing to criticize — we were first to the floor, we boxed out, we were physical, we met their physicality. That was it.”

PHOTO GALLERY: View images from the CSN-Loyola game

Loyola coach Tom Livatino — whose team will try for a Hoopfest three-peat Sunday at 1:45 p.m. against Covington Catholic, a 53-36 winner Saturday over Deerfield Beach — said the victory over CSN was the Ramblers’ best win of the season.

“I think (they’re) a great team,” Livatino said of the Seahawks (10-2). “I think they’re going to have a phenomenal season and do great in the state playoffs. I was really impressed with them.”

One night after they combined for 50 points (25 apiece) in an impressive win over St. Thomas Aquinas, the Seahawks’ scoring tandem of senior guard Parker Weiss and sophomore forward Ryker Vance were neutralized by the Ramblers. Weiss scored 10 points and was held to two 3-pointers after making 13 over the first two days of the tourney, while Vance was held to six points.

“They always had a guy riding me and just played solid defense honestly — nothing cheap,” said Weiss, who narrowly missed a 3-pointer in the closing minute that would’ve cut Loyola’s lead to one. “They’re very disciplined, and they just had a great game plan going into it, and they executed it.”

During the postgame handshake, Livatino paused to say something to Weiss, patting the Seahawks standout on the chest.

Loyola coach Tom Livatino and CSN’s Parker Weiss share a moment after Saturday’s game. GREGG HARDY/CSI

“Our guys put forth a whole lot of effort on him. He’s a really, really good player,” Livatino said. “I told him, ‘You guys are going to have a great season. Trust your coach. It was really fun scouting you and watching you.’

“You’ve got to make sure you make his shots difficult, his catches difficult, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that. We lost him a few times, and he hurt us, but he’s a really good player.”

With Weiss struggling just to get a shot off, Jacob Siegel kept Community School in the game. He had six of the Seahawks’ 14 points in a third quarter that saw them trim a 12-point halftime deficit down to seven. A little past the halfway point of the fourth quarter, Jay Beshears buried a 3 from the right corner to pull the Seahawks to within four.

“Jacob was tearing ’em up, so I was letting him go,” Donahue said, adding that when teams took Weiss out of the game last season, “we got blown out” but “this year, other guys are like, ‘Hey, I can play basketball, too. I’ll make plays … which is great.”

Matthew Enghauser led the Ramblers with 11 points.

Hard-nosed CSN point guard Jacob Siegel was a thorn in the Ramblers’ side. GREGG HARDY/CSI

Asked if the intensity on the floor Saturday night could compare to that of, say, a regional final or state tournament game, Donahue and Weiss were quick with an answer.

“We’ve played in the region final, we’ve played in the Final Four. That was it. You just saw what it will be and what it will come down to,” Donahue said. “And when you’re at Lakeland, you’re like, ‘Well, we didn’t make shots, or they made shots, and that’s what it comes down to. It happened to us against Arlington Country Day years ago — they made a couple shots, and we didn’t.”

Said Weiss: “It’s the same amount of pressure and competitiveness (as the postseason). You can tell by the refs — they’re letting some things go by, which, is gonna happen in state playoffs. Having it be midseason and having that kind of pressure and intensity, it’s just nice to have right now rather than later … .”

Vance has yet to experience a deep playoff run, but he recalled running into a tough Tampa Catholic team (that reached the Class 5A state semifinals) last season. Then a freshman, he and the Seahawks weren’t up to the task — they lost regional first-rounder, 88-55. Vance believes Saturday night’s experience can only serve the Seahawks well in six weeks.

“This was a very similar game to that (Tampa Catholic game) — the intensity, the physicality, everything,” the 6-foot-4 Vance said. “It’s very similar, and we think that this particular game, even though we didn’t come out with the win, could help us in the long run.”

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