Newman turns back Pumas

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Six minutes into Wednesday’s game at Cardinal Newman, the Cardinals were threatening to chase visiting Maria Carrillo off the court in a North Bay League tournament semifinal.

Bobby Sharp of Cardinal Newman is sandwiched between Maria Carrillo's Jake Daly, left and Traivs Parker. Photo by Kent Porter / The Press Democrat

It was 17-4, with Newman on an 11-0 run, when Pumas coach Jerry Deakins called timeout and sat his players down for a message.

“I just told ’em, ‘That’s their run. That’s what they cannot do,’” Deakins reflected after the game. “They come out and put a run on you, now you got your backs against the wall. Now you have no choice but to defend, to get us back in the game.”

Whether it was Deakins’ message that did the trick, Maria Carrillo scored the final six points of the first quarter and proceeded to lock Cardinal Newman into a protracted battle.

But Deakins wasn’t completely right. The Cardinals had a couple more runs in them. They went ahead with a six-point spurt in the fourth quarter, and scored the final seven points of the game to lock up a 61-53 victory and a spot in Friday night’s NBL championship game.

The real surprise came after the game, when Newman coach Tom Bonfigli and his players learned that they would not be facing arch-rival Montgomery but rather Ukiah, which upset the Vikings in the other semifinal.

After this one, the Cardinals are happy just to be moving on.

Over the final three quarters, the teams were tied eight times. Between the 7:40 mark of the second period and the 1:20 mark of the fourth, nobody led by more than four points — and that lofty margin was achieved just twice, once by either team.

One difference for Cardinal Newman was rebounding. Bonfigli said his team held a 2-to-1 rebounding edge in the second half.

The other contrast was depth. With a longer bench, the Cardinals had more wind down the stretch.

“There were seven loose balls in the fourth quarter — we keep that stat,” Bonfigli said. “We got all seven.”

Carrillo center Brian Johnson’s drive to the basket cut Newman’s lead to 54-53 with 2:08 remaining, but the Pumas would not score again.

Swingman Xavier McCall led the Cardinals with 20 points, and guard Bobby Sharp had 16. That would pretty much be expected from Cardinal Newman’s two senior stars.

What thrilled Bonfigli were the contributions he got from supporting players late in the game. Senior forward Tim Moreno, an all-league defensive back for the Cardinals football team, hit two free throws and drove the lane for a basket just inside of the 3:00 mark. And sophomore guard Kenny Love, who otherwise had a fairly quiet game, had a big putback and a pair of free throws with just about a minute left.

Bonfigli also praised the physical inside play of junior center Chris Cavalin and senior center Griffen Meinken.

Maria Carrillo senior Michael Francis led all scorers with 22 points, and for a while he threatened to make this his game.

Francis, a deadly spot-up shooter from the corners, poured in 13 points in the second quarter as the Pumas turned a six-point deficit into a one-point halftime advantage.

Francis, Carrillo’s all-time leader in 3-point shots, hit six treys Wednesday, including a 25-foot swish just before the halftime buzzer that Ray Allen would have been proud of.

After halftime, though, Cardinal Newman did a better job getting in Francis’ face, especially on switches after screens, and the Pumas couldn’t compensate. They scored just 21 points in the second half.

“We didn’t really get into an offensive flow in some situations,” Deakins said. “It forced us to take poor shots. At times I thought when our offense got stagnant, and then we weren’t patient enough to make their defense play on two sides of the court. Basically, we shot too quickly sometimes.”

At 17-10, Deakins thinks his team will draw a mid-level seed in next week’s North Coast Section tournament.

Cardinal Newman, of course, has another game to play before NCS. It won’t be a grudge match against Montgomery. But Bonfigli figures his team won’t lack for motivation against Ukiah, a team it twice beat by double digits.

“For us, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing on Friday night,” Bonfigli said. “We haven’t won the league tournament since I’ve been here. We’ve won three championships, and we have not won the tournament.”

Now the Cardinals have a chance to reverse that history.

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