Empire sends 42 teams to NCS basketball tournaments

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After compiling a 24-4 record, claiming the North Bay League championship and heading into the North Coast Section Division 4 playoffs with a 10-game winning streak, the Cardinal Newman boys — and a lot of people outside the program, too — expected the No. 2 seed.

It didn’t happen. When the NCS released its brackets Sunday, the Cardinals were sitting at No. 3, one spot behind Marin Catholic, a team that has lost two of its past three games. Coach Tom Bonfigli’s reaction? Get over it, and get ready for a first-round game against St. Helena on Wednesday night.

“It doesn’t matter,” Bonfigli said. “The little number next to your name, it doesn’t make any difference.”

The Cardinals are among the 42 Redwood Empire teams who received berths Sunday. In terms of their designated status, they range from the area’s only No. 1 seed, the Point Arena boys in Division 6, to a couple of grateful No. 16s in Division 4 — the Kelseyville boys and the El Molino girls.

Joining Cardinal Newman, a quartet of Redwood Empire boys teams bring up the rear of Division 4 — Middletown at No. 13, St. Helena at No. 14, Healdsburg at No. 15 and Kelseyville sneaking in at 16. Among the Division 4 girls, Willits is at No. 9, Cardinal Newman at No. 12, Cloverdale at No. 13, Healdsburg at No. 15 and El Mo at 16.

If the Newman boys felt a bit slighted, the Windsor boys got the news they were hoping for, receiving the second seed in Division 2.

The Jaguars went 23-4 and were designated the Sonoma County League champions before falling to Analy in the league tournament final.

That loss did not persuade the NCS seeding committee to drop Windsor below College Park or Las Lomas, and Steve Kramer’s team will open with a home game against Pinole Valley on Tuesday.

All teams in Divisions 1 through 3 open play Tuesday, with the next round on Friday. Divisions 4 through 6 begin Wednesday, with second-round games to follow on Saturday.

The Jaguars are one of four teams on the “south” side of the Division 2 bracket, along with No. 6 Montgomery, No. 7 Maria Carrillo and No. 14 Casa Grande. Windsor and Carrillo could conceivably meet in Round 2 on Friday, as could Monty and Casa. To get there, the Vikings will have to win without coach Tom Fitchie, who is suspended for the opener. Rancho Cotate, which reached the NBL final, is seeded 12th on the “north” side of the bracket.

The Casa Grande girls, seeded third, head a D-2 lineup that also includes No. 4 Maria Carrillo and No. 7 Montgomery.
Pumas coach Matt Vogensen, reached while driving to the NCS offices in Dublin to get postseason packets for his team and the Carrillo boys as well, was looking forward to hosting Mt. Eden of Hayward on Tuesday.

“That’s what’s fun about the North Coast Section. You get to play teams from out of the area,” Vogensen said.

“We’ve played Montgomery four times. It’s exciting to play someone else, someone who doesn’t know you so well. It helps to be able to play to our strengths.”

The downside: Vogensen was hurriedly trying to find some game film of Mt. Eden, which plays in the Hayward Area Athletic League.

Only one Redwood Empire team made the Division 1 bracket. That would be the Santa Rosa girls, who clock in at No. 11.
Meanwhile, the Piner boys got their first NCS bid in three years, receiving the No. 12 seed in Division 3. The Analy boys and girls both landed at No. 6 in D-3, and the Sonoma Valley girls came in at No. 9.

In Division 5, the highest local seed belongs to the St. Vincent girls, who received the No. 3 spot after winning the NCL II title. Sonoma Academy is at No. 4, and Roseland Prep is in the bracket at No. 15. The only D-5 boys teams from the Redwood Empire are St. Vincent (No. 9) and Sonoma Academy (No. 15).

Sonoma Academy’s girls defeated St. Vincent, 58-56, in the NCL II tourney title game Friday night in overtime. St. Vincent had two earlier victories over Sonoma Academy to claim the regular-season title.

“A game like that will really help prepare us for the section playoffs,” said St. Vincent head coach Jim Fagundes. “It was intense, with tough defense and it went down the wire like a playoff game.”

Down in Division 6, the Point Arena boys beat out Pleasant Hill Adventist for the top seed. The Pirates (23-3), who claimed the NCL III championship, will host Redwood Adventist Academy on Saturday night in what technically qualifies as a second-round game.

Other Redwood Empire boys teams in the Division 6 playoffs include fourth-seeded Rincon Valley Christian, No. 5 Laytonville, No. 6 Mendocino and No. 7 Summerfield Waldorf. Only eight teams were selected in the division, and all get first-round byes.
On the girls side of D-6 — in a more complete 12-team bracket — RVC claimed the second seed, and NCL II rival Tomales is No. 3. Both get byes and begin play Saturday.

The field also includes No. 7 Round Valley, No. 8 Point Arena, No. 10 Summerfield Waldorf, No. 11 Anderson Valley, No. 12 Rio Lindo Adventist and No. 13 Laytonville.

Round Valley hosts Summerfield in a first-round game Wednesday. Surprisingly, that is one of just two NCS games involving head-to-head Empire matchups, the other being the Cardinal Newman-St. Helena tilt.

The good news for the Cardinals is that, despite failing to land that No. 2 seed, they will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs unless they should meet top-seeded Salesian in the Division 4 title game.

Playing at home is always a good thing, though even that isn’t enough to soothe a worrywart like Bonfigli.

“I told my kids, buildings don’t win games,” he said.

Good teams win games, and we’re about to find out which of them are up to the postseason challenge.

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