By Dan McGrath

Coming off two semi-disheartening, coulda/woulda/shoulda losses to St. Francis de Sales and Riverside-Brookfield,  Leo Coach Jamille Ridley wanted nothing more than to “pop” Loyola Academy with an upset in a Catholic League Blue Division matchup in Wilmette Friday night.

Didn’t happen, but not for Leo’s lack of effort. Playing the perpetual-motion offense and vice-grip-tight defense that have been their hallmarks forever, the Ramblers ground out a 58-37 victory. 

With two state-champion football players among its starters, Loyola (23-5 overall, 3-3 Catholic League Blue) was a little too big, a little too strong and a little too old —its senior-dominated lineup is comfortably accustomed to playing together, while the young Lions are in Year 2 of a scorched-earth rebuild.

“Played them up here last year and they smoked us—running clock,” Ridley recalled. “Tonight, we competed. We played hard and held our own. We’re getting there. And if we trust the process, we’ll get there.”

The Lions have seen quite enough of Loyola senior sharpshooter Miles Boland, who outscored them (10-9) by himself in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 17 points. Boland would manage seven over the remaining three periods, but the Ramblers are an equal-opportunity offense and three other double-figures scorers would make sure their 33-20 halftime lead was never seriously threatened.

Andrew Hollerich scored 13 points, Brendan Loftus (a football recruit as a tight end) had 12 and Daniel Birmingham provided 10 off the bench.

Leo (11-15, 1-4 CCL Blue) got 16 points and a strong all-around game from junior Stephen Barze, and nine points from Emanuel Walker. Good shots are so hard to come by against Loyola’s miserly defense that you have to make more than 27 percent of your attempts. And you can’t further burden yourself with 13 turnovers and 9-of-16 free-throw shooting. 

“No one in this room should be sad or disappointed or hanging their heads,” Ridley said. “Of course you’re disappointed when you lose, but that’s a quality, veteran team that’s just better than us right now. But we’ll get there. If we continue to compete, put the work in and trust the process, we’ll get there.”

Next up for the Lions: Oak Lawn (17-6, 9-1 in the South Suburban Conference) in the Evergreen Park Shootout on Sunday. Game time is 3 p.m.