Montgomery, Newman teams to beat in second half

Defense has been the difference in North Bay League boys’ basketball as Montgomery and Cardinal Newman appear in control entering the second half of league play.

Montgomery's Brian McCammon comes down with a rebound against Cardinal Newman during last week's game, a thriller won by the Vikings in overtime. Montgomery and Newman are 1-2 respectively atop the NBL standings. Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

The overtime thriller with the Vikings edging the Cardinals exemplifies both teams at their defensive bests. The problem for league rivals is Montgomery and Cardinal Newman also can rack up high scoring games.

If form holds, Cardinal Newman’s visit to Montgomery in two weeks could decide the regular-season title. Neither team will look that far ahead as Ukiah and Maria Carrillo are right behind and playing well in bids for the North Coast Section playoffs.
“We’ve still got three very challenging games and maybe more if you don’t play well. You have to take care of business,” said Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie.

Moving past the difficult defeat to Montgomery at home, Cardinal Newman looks to keep opponents in check and stay in position for the league title.
“With seven games left to play a lot can happen,” said Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli.
The schedule appears to give Ukiah, winners of three straight, an edge in finishing the season strong. The Wildcats get four big games at home — Montgomery, Maria Carrillo, Rancho Cotate and tonight’s contest with Cardinal Newman.

“Hopefully that will help us,” said Ukiah coach Bill Heath. “But we need to fast break and shoot well and play solid defense.”
Balanced scoring and relentless defense have proved a winning formula for Montgomery, undefeated in league play.
Sturdy guard Alec Kobre scores 14 a game and center Ben Freeland gets 13, both returning All-Empire players. Guard Zack Templeton adds 10 points a game.

The Vikings defense is a team effort bolstered by role players including Anthony Becker, Karl Nimtz and speedster Quentin Mendoza.
“We’re becoming a little more consistent,” Fitchie said.
Keeping league opponents below 40 points a game, Cardinal Newman is a difficult matchup for any team. The Cardinals’ depth allows Bonfigli to keep fresh legs on the court.

“We’ve played really good defense and Montgomery has to,” Bonfigli said. “Right now our focus is definitely on winning a game at a time.”
Returning All-Empire standouts Bobby Sharp and Xavier McCall are playing very well again. Shooting guard Sharp averages 17 points a game. McCall adds 16 points and 4 rebounds a game at forward.
Ukiah is a high-scoring unit that likes to pick up the pace in hopes of offsetting a lack of height.

“We try to get out and run as much as we can. We try to force the tempo,” Heath said.
Cesar Mendoza again is showing why he was an All-Empire pick, scoring 19 points a game and adding five assists and four rebounds. Nate Henry leads with 7 rebounds to go with 12 points per contest from one forward spot. Michael Starkey averages 9 points and 6 rebounds off the bench.
Sharing third place with the Wildcats is Maria Carrillo, the league’s tallest team yet one that can reel off scoring runs from both outside and inside.

The forward tandem of wing Michael Francis and forward Jake Sweeting lead an offense that also has center Brian Johnson giving opponents several scorers to defend.
Lurking a game back is Rancho Cotate, though the Cougars will be without leading scorer Tristan Eaken for a week following a foot injury.

“We’re just going to have to step it up now. Every game is a playoff game for us right now,” said Rancho Cotate coach Dennis Magatelli.
Center Ricky Garcia anchors the offense, averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds. Nick Desoto chips in 9 points and 4 rebounds from a guard spot. Filling in for Eaken is Viamaa Taito, a slashing guard already averaging 8 points a game off the bench.

While the Cougars must finish well to qualify for the section playoffs, the top four teams should be in good shape barring injuries or bad losses.
“Our league is very tough. You’re prepared for the playoffs,” Heath said.