By Dan McGrath

This was rather predictable: St. Rita was bent on avenging an embarrassing 59-57 home loss to Leo last season in which the Mustangs blew a 15-point second-half lead and could only watch as Austin Ford’s last-second putback all but handed the Catholic League title to the Lions. 

Jamal Thompson, Leo’s Lawless Award-winning coach last season, was on the St. Rita bench as an assistant, having walked out on Leo under less than friendly circumstances, followed by five returning players. 

The Mustangs were 19-10 overall, 11-1 in the Catholic League; Leo was 7-21, 2-10 going into its final home game of the season. 

In the end, the Mustangs had too much size and too much firepower and bullied their way to a 71-40 victory on Tuesday, Feb. 14. Save for some silly chirping at the end, the game was incident-free, even though it fit the classically cliched description of a battle between two teams that just don’t like each other. 

The quote is attributed to the former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”  

The 21-2 run with which St. Rita closed the first quarter qualified as a knockout punch, but the Lions got up from it and kept swinging. 

Still, every time they threatened to make it interesting, Nojus Indrusaitis would feather in a three-pointer or Morez Johnson would pound down a thunder-dunk. Indrusaitis finished with 30 points and Johnson had 20.

The 31-point final was fairly indicative of the size, talent and experience gaps between the teams, though Leo’s Keeland Jordan certainly went down swinging with 15 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals before leaving to a nice ovation in his final home game. 

Competing in the 2-A bracket of the IHSA state tournament, Leo is the No. 10 seed in the Julian Sectional and will begin Regional play against Butler College Prep (10-18) at Butler (821 E. 103rd Street) on Saturday at 2 p.m. The winner advances to the next round at South Shore High School on Tuesday, Feb. 21

Unlike last year, Leo’s expectations are modest. But they call it “the second season” for a reason.