By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The raucous rivalry that is Cardinal Newman-Montgomery basketball reached an oxygen-draining height Monday before a packed crowd at Santa Rosa Junior College with the Cardinals holding on for a narrow win.
Cardinal Newman led for all but one possession in the game, including double-digit advantages. Yet this was no comfortable contest as Montgomery battled back on several occasions before the Cardinals’ last run capped the 52-48 win.
Feeling the energy of fans filling Haehl Pavilion, the North Bay League powers played typically tough defense; scoring slowed as the game wore on. Still, there were few fouls and both teams found enough offensive flow to swap scoring runs and momentum throughout.
“The atmosphere was incredible. It was great,” said Cardinal Newman forward Carey Hammell, the game’s leading scorer with 21 points. “Both teams were really going at each other.”
Having to repeatedly come from behind, including overcoming a pair of 11-point deficits, seemed to wear down Montgomery in the end. The Vikings committed costly turnovers at the end of the third and fourth quarters to thwart rallies.
“In crunch time, we made a couple of bad decisions. But we played hard the whole game. That was a positive,” said Alec Raven, who topped Montgomery with 14 points.
Another typically close contest appeared to be going Cardinal Newman’s way in the third period. Playing particularly tough help defense to shackle Raven and limit Montgomery point guard Noah Orlik, the Cardinals scored eight unanswered to take an 11-point lead with Hammell scoring around the post and Tim McCullough from outside.
“We’re a very good defensive team. But Montgomery also plays really good defense,” said Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli.
With the game in the balance, Montgomery responded with a six-point run to get back in the contest. The Vikings were more active rebounding, quicker and stronger passing with the ball.
“On offense we’re coming around. We need to be more consistent,” said Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie.
Holding onto a five-point lead entering the fourth quarter, Cardinal Newman couldn’t keep Montgomery down. A 3-pointer by Orlik tied the game as Montgomery reeled off a 15-4 run. The teams then exchanged scores, setting the stage for a frantic finish.
Coming alive when the Cardinals needed him most was Kenny Love. Last season’s NBL most valuable player hit a pair of free throws and scored on a three-point play off a left elbow jumper to restore Cardinal Newman’s advantage.
Another 3-pointer from Orlik narrowed the lead to a single score. Hammel hit two free throws to end Montgomery’s hopes.
“We played a little bit better defense and made big shots down the stretch,” said Hammell, who scored 10 of his 21 points in the first quarter.
Matching on the other end was Raven. Showing quick feet and comfortable facing the basket or backing in, the forward scored 8 of his 14 in the opening period.
Both defenses sent double and sometimes triple teams at the leading scorers.
The teams face off at SRJC again on Feb. 4.
“The fans were crazy. It gave us great energy,” Raven said. “Next time, we’re already looking forward to it.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.