Teams all set for Sonoma County Classic

Cardinal Newman's Bobby Sharp defends Pinole Valley's Jerrick Ortiz during the second round of the Brett Callan Memorial Tournament held at Casa Grande High, Dec. 17, 2010. Pinole Valley beat Cardinal Newman 71-53. (CRISTA JEREMIASON/PD).

ByHOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Classic, annually the final tune-up for Empire boys basketball teams before NBL and SCL play begins, tips off Tuesday at Piner High.

Three of the eight teams in the NBL will be competing while El Molino is the lone SCL representative. In the opening round, the Empire teams will all face challenges from schools that are out of the area.

At 4 p.m, El Mo (1-9) takes on Richmond JFK (1-9), followed by Cardinal Newman (6-3) vs. Hayward Mt. Eden (4-3) at 5:30 p.m.

The final two games find Rancho Cotate (4-5) battling Acalanes (5-5) at 7 p.m. and Piner (2-6) entertaining Eureka (4-5) at 8:30 p.m.

The teams split into winners and losers brackets on Wednesday with final positions determined on Wednesday. Start times will move up an hour on the final day with the championship to be decided at 7 p.m.

While coaches normally use pre-conference tournaments to experiment in preparation for league, Newman coach Tom Bonfigli feels a sense of urgency going into the Classic. The Cardinals settled for third as the host team in the Rose City and also finished in that spot in last weekend’s Brett Callan at Casa Grande.

“We need to win this tournament and come into league with a 9-3 record,” Bonfigli said. “The NBL is going to be very tough and we have to come in with some momentum.”

It appears Montgomery, Ukiah, Maria Carrillo, Rancho Cotate and Newman will make-up the upper tier in the NBL. Play begins Jan. 5 in the NBL and also the SCL.

In Mt. Eden, Bonfigli believes Newman drew the strongest non-Empire team in the Classic.

“I drove down to Hayward (Dec. 14) to see them play Washington, a team from Fremont,” Bonfigli said. “They lost by a point and had a chance to win at the end, but missed the shot.”

That defeat started a three-game skid for the team from the Hayward Area Conference. Mt. Eden’s most recent defeat was on Thursday, a 74-64 loss at Clayton Valley. Last Saturday, Newman blasted Clayton Valley, 71-40, to take third in the Callan Memorial.
Mt. Eden is averaging nearly 58 points per game with 6-foot-6 junior center Shamil Sharma leading the way with a 14-point average.

Newman is led by Bobby Sharp and Xavier McCall, both excellent shooters.

The Classic will wrap up a busy 15 days for the Cardinals. Following Wednesday’s action, they will have played seven games in 15 days.

Despite its losing record, Rancho Cotate first-year coach Dennis Magatelli likes the way his team is developing entering the Classic. Early in the campaign, the Cougars were without starters Ricky Garcia and Viamaa Taito. Both played for the Cougars’ football team that didn’t conclude play until losing the NCS Div. 2 finale on Dec. 11.

Both played nearly three quarters Thursday when Rancho lost 58-43 at Casa Grande.

Taito had 12 points and Garcia, Rancho’s tallest player at 6-foot-4, finished with 11.

“The final score doesn’t tell the whole story,” Magatelli said. “We were within seven with a couple of minutes to go and had to foul. Casa made its free throws and that’s why the margin was 15, instead of seven or eight.

“It’s taken Garcia and Taito a few weeks to get into basketball shape, but they’re ready to go four quarters now. In football, a player goes all out for a few seconds and then rests until the next snap. In basketball, you have to go all out for longer stretches. It takes awhile for the football guys to get in basketball shape.”

Tristan Eaken is the team’s top scorer, averaging just under 17.

“We have eight juniors and four seniors,” Magatelli points out. “It’s taken a while for us to come together, but we’re where I was expecting us to be with league around the corner.”