Newman holds off Piner

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s pretty easy to write the script for Cardinal Newman’s 57-46 win at Piner on Tuesday night. With a huge game at Montgomery looming next week, the Cardinals looked past the sixth-place Prospectors and came out slowly. Piner finally reverted to the norm, went cold in the fourth quarter, and Newman got a victory on a night when it didn’t play well.

Cardinal Newman started off slowly against Piner on Tuesday night before pulling out a win. File photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

Burn the script, Tom Bonfigli said.
The Cardinals coach saw this game in a completely different light. According to Bonfigli, his team played quite well against a solid, improving team and one of the best coaches in the region in Piner’s Mike Erickson. Cardinal Newman wasn’t sluggish. Piner was at its best, hitting 7 of 8 free throws through the first three quarters, staying poised against the Cardinals’ full-court press and mixing defenses effectively.

The Prospectors might even have had a few calls go their way. The visitors’ stands were especially incensed when officials called the Cardinals for back-to-back lane violations on Piner free throws with about two minutes left in the game.

“I just think it’s a long season, and you’re gonna have teams play well against you,” Bonfigli said. “Piner is really well-coached. They had a good scheme, a good game plan. Mike gives them a chance to win if it’s close. When we had a one-point lead at halftime, my kids were not in shock.”

Facing a Newman team that had won 12 of its past 13 and is still gunning for the North Bay League crown, Piner broke out the defensive playbook. The Prospectors went to a triangle-and-2, a box-and-1 and a 1-3-1 slide zone in an effort to take away the Cardinals’ top two scorers, guard

Bobby Sharp (16.8 points per game) and swingman Xavier McCall (16.1).
The overall plan was effective, but Cardinal Newman’s senior leaders got their points. McCall wound up with 22, many of them finishing fast breaks, to go along with his seven rebounds. Sharp scored 20 points on an array of jumpers.

The Cardinals have seen “junk defenses” from other opponents this year, notably Maria Carrillo, but they rarely seem fazed. That’s probably because they practice against them every day.
Piner jumped to a quick 7-2 lead early in the game and was up 15-12 after the first quarter. Cardinal Newman didn’t regain the lead until the 4:49 mark of the second quarter, and was up just 26-25 at halftime. A 12-3 run in the third quarter, fueled by the Prospectors’ only turnover-prone stretch, extended the Cardinals’ lead to 43-34.

Piner went cold in the final quarter, hitting just 2 of 11 field goals, and not getting its first of the period until 1:15 remained in the game. Bonfigli credited his team’s relentless defense, which is par for the course. In their past 13 games, the Cardinals have allowed more than 50 points just three times.
“We have great confidence in our ability to stop you,” Bonfigli said. “And with any combo or zone defense, like Piner was playing, the structural weakness is rebounding. We doubled their rebounding in the second half.”
Cardinal Newman’s greater depth may also have finally worn down the opponent. The Prospectors’ bench had just two points in this game, with the five starters getting heavy minutes.
Newman wasn’t exactly hot late, hitting 5 of 16 shots in the fourth quarter, but did enough to get the win.

“At this point of the season, every game is equally important, equally valuable,” Bonfigli said. “You don’t want to lose to a team that’s not a contender.”
Senior forward Calvin Gonzales and junior center Lawrence Whitt Jr. led Piner (7-14, 3-7 NBL) with 13 points each. Whitt added 11 rebounds, while guard Matt LoCoco had 10. Junior center Chris Cavalin grabbed seven rebounds for Cardinal Newman (18-4, 9-1).

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.