NorCals: 3 Empire teams gain home openers

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Empire high school basketball fans have a trio of top state playoff games to watch as the Windsor and Cardinal Newman boys and Casa Grande girls host first round contests Wednesday.

Bodies of work over the winter earned the teams' home contests in the NorCal regionals. Win and they go on the road in bids for berths in the California Interscholastic Federation championships.

“It’s sudden death and everybody’s going to try and give it their best shot,” said Casa Grande coach Dan Sack.

Sunday’s seeding meeting placed the Empire teams where coaches expected.

With first round games set for Wednesday, the squads have time to prepare for opponents that should provide tests even if those three foes are coming to the Empire to play in unfamilair territory.

“When you get to NorCals everyone deserves to be there. They're all good,” said Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli.

Windsor faces perhaps the toughest task of winning and advancing.

The always difficult Nos. 8-9 seed game, with visiting McNair, of Stockton, means Windsor must move past Friday’s North Coast Section final loss to Newark Memorial and prepare for another tough opponent.

“They do everything well. They’re going to be a handful,” Windsor coach Steve Kramer said of the Central valley school.

McNair is 10 places ahead of Windsor in the state Div. 2 rankings.

A senior-laden squad, Windsor can handle the pressure of playing in the school’s first boys NorCal basketball game.

“We’ve got some competitive kids and we’re just going to try and keep it going forward,” Kramer said.

While the Casa Grande girls are favored over Florin, Sack said the Sacramento school is the most difficult opponent the Gauchos could host in Div. 2.

“They look big, strong and athletic. I was hoping they would go a little higher in the seeding,” Sack said.

Still, with only two losses on the season, Casa Grande is among the best Empire girls teams in recent years. Having pushed perennial power Carondelet in the NCS finals, the Gauchos are confident.

“This time of year you have to go out and play your best and hit your shots,” Sack said.

Hosting a team with 14 losses on the season, Cardinal Newman would appear to have an advantageous path to the NorCal quarterfinals.

Yet the Cardinals are facing a Marshall team, from San Francisco, playing its best when the games count most.

“They're quick and run a lot of pressure. They’ll be athletic and it will be a tough game,” Bonfigli said.

Cardinal Newman’s last NorCal appearance led to a regional title and state championship game loss five years ago. The Cardinals want to recapture that magic.

“The main thing is we’re playing,” Bonfigli said. “We get a chance to play some more and that’s the bottom line.”

CIF STATEBASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
(Link to complete brackets)

NORTHERNCALIFORNIAREGIONAL

First round (all games 7 p.m. Wednesday)

BOYS
Div. 2: Stockton McNair (23-5) at Windsor (26-5)
Div. 4: SF Marshall (15-14) at Cardinal Newman (26-5)

GIRLS
Div. 2: Sacramento Florin ((24-5) at Casa Grande (30-2)

Second-round: Saturday

Regional semifinals: March 13

Regional finals: March 17

State finals: March 23 at Sacramento