Cardinals bounce back

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In a game where the winner would stay in contention for the North Bay League title and the loser would be all but eliminated, Cardinal Newman convincingly defeated visiting Maria Carrillo, 57-42, Thursday night.

Cardinal Newman's Xavier McCall drives against Maria Carrillo's Michael Francis. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

The home win bumps the Cardinals’ league record to 5-1, one game behind Montgomery. Carrillo now has two losses, and it’s hard to imagine one of the lower-tier teams in the league defeating Montgomery or Newman.

After Tuesday night’s heartbreaking 44-42 overtime loss to the Vikings, Cardinals coach Tom Bonfigli made sure his team understood the importance of Thursday’s game.

“I told them it was a must-win if they want to win the NBL,” the coach said. “I challenged them and they responded against a good Carrillo team.”

Any concerns Newman would come out flat vanished in the first minute, as Xavier McCall nailed a jumper from just inside the arc and a few seconds later Bobby Sharp connected on a trey. That put the Pumas on their heels and they never recovered.

Carrillo had chances in the first quarter, but missed consecutive layups.

The most memorable sequence of the game came in the final seconds of the first quarter. The Pumas trailed 7-5 and were holding the ball for the final shot. McCall anticipated a pass, jumped in for the steal and raced down the court for a dunk that brought the near-capacity crowd to its feet.

It was downhill from there for the visitors.

The lead grew to 21-8 about 3 minutes before halftime, and in the third quarter, Newman exploded for 25 points. Going into the fourth quarter, the score was 48-25.

McCall finished with 17, right on his average. The 6-foot-3 senior also had a dunk in the second quarter. Sophomore Kenny Love had his most productive game of the season, with 11 points and nine rebounds.

“We knew we had to shake off the Montgomery loss or forget about NBL,” said McCall. “We came out hungry, got the lead early and then concentrated on keeping our energy level high.”

Love said the day after the Montgomery loss was not a good one.

“We were not feeling good,” he said. “But coach talked to us about how good teams bounce back, and we were ready to play after that.”

Bonfigli said this was a gut check for his club, now 14-4 and winner of eight of its past nine.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” he said. “The kids showed their heart and soul.

“I think we did a lot of good things on defense. They’re usually a good shooting team and we played them so tight, we took them out of their rhythm.”

Newman will get another chance at Montgomery on Feb. 7 on the Vikings’ home court.

Michael Francis led Carrillo with 13 points and Jake Sweeting was next with 10.

The Pumas, 11-6, had won six of their past seven. They’ll host Newman on Feb. 9.