Defense carries Cardinal Newman

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The calm in a shaky Cardinal Newman start was Bobby Sharp, hitting shots to regain leads and helping the Cardinals take control in Wednesday’s section playoff win over Lick Wilmerding.

Cardinal Newman's Bobby Sharp goes to the basket. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

Later the All-Empire guard left with an ankle injury after landing on a defender’s foot, a down note on a night when Cardinal Newman played the type of relentless defense that wins playoff games. Lick Wilmerding wilted under the pressure, with the Cardinals prevailing, 68-53.

Sharp, who went to the hospital after the game to have his ankle examined, said he was “sore” but expects to play Saturday when Cardinal Newman hosts Marin Catholic at 7 p.m.

“Playoff basketball is all about defense. We’ve got to keep it on a high gear,” said Xavier McCall, who scored 16 points to go with Sharp’s 18.

The supporting cast for the All-Empire duo played some of Cardinal Newman’s best basketball of the year over the final three quarters. Locking down the rebounding contest, forcing steals and making Lick Wilmerding work hard for shots, the Cardinals’ defense fueled a 19-0 run over the second and third quarters to thwart any Tigers hopes of a road win.

“They picked it up big time. They’re athletic. They’re very good,” said Lick Wilmerding coach Eliot Smith.

The visitors from San Francisco were game early and late, but didn’t have the bench depth or size to match their hosts.

After a Sharp basket to open the game, Lick Wilmerding patiently ran its spread offense to go up 9-2. The Tigers answered a Cardinal Newman run with a 3-pointer. Then Sharp took over, scoring six straight on a drive and a pair of step-back jump shots to give the Cardinals a 13-12 lead going into the second quarter.

With sharpshooter Kishan Jay hitting for 5 of his team-high 17 points, Lick Wilmerding took its last lead at 24-23.

Using a full-court press and getting into passing lanes, Cardinal Newman would stifle Lick Wilmerding the remainder of the half. Reserves Tim Moreno, Alan Bertolero and Lucas Murphy in particular provided fresh legs and also contributed eight points in the second quarter.

“We just turned up the defensive intensity,” said Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli. “Lick Wilmerding shot the ball really well. We just needed to deny everything and close them off.”

Rebounding was critical in the win with the Cardinals pulling down nearly twice as many missed shots. While the Tigers were getting one shot on each possession much of the game, Cardinal Newman fed off second- and third-chance baskets.

As he has all season, Kenny Love was the workhorse down low. Love was rewarded with an 11-point night, nearly double his scoring average.

“Loose balls and rebounds, we know that’s a key to the game,” Love said, sharing the credit with the team’s reserves. “We stay fresh inside. We’re pretty deep.”
Cardinal Newman sends out a dozen players a game and can wear down opponents.

“We all feed off each other throughout the game,” McCall said.

Depth helped carry the Cardinals to their largest lead at 42-24 in the third quarter and was a catalyst in keeping the Tigers from getting closer than 10 points the rest of the way.

Tigers point guard Phillip Stone hit a 3-pointer in a scoring run to narrow the deficit after Jay and Isaiah Boone combined for 9 points to keep Lick Wilmerding competitive.

“I was happy for our guys, to be able to play the big boys and hang in there,” Smith said. “It’s all about respect.”

A pair of Cardinal Newman scores from Murphy, including one off a rebound, and McCall’s only make from outside — a 3-pointer — restored a comfortable lead.

“We made some adjustments and just did it,” Bonfigli said. “It’s playoff basketball.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.