By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The visiting Montgomery girls’ basketball team needed a basket with two seconds to play by Ashlee Wilson to survive a late fourth-quarter surge by Cardinal Newman on Friday night to win 48-46 and retain a share of first place in the North Bay League with two games to play.
Montgomery (19-5, 10-2) and Santa Rosa, who defeated Ukiah on Friday, remain tied for the NBL lead. Cardinal Newman (15-7, 6-6) is in the middle of the pack in the league standings.
Montgomery had a comfortable 37-25 lead at the end of the third quarter and seemed to have the game well in hand. The Vikings, however, let their guard down and Cardinal Newman rose up after three quarters of sluggish offensive.
“We got a little sloppy on defense in the fourth quarter for a five-minute stint,” Montgomery coach Steve Bell said. “Give Cardinal Newman credit for fighting back.”
The Cardinals tied it 46-46 with 1:12 to play after Tiffany Salinas made a bucket, was fouled and converted the free throw to cap a 21-9 run by Cardinal Newman.
“We stuck to our game plan (in the fourth quarter) and that was to push the ball,” Cardinal Newman coach Monica Mertle said.
With 23 seconds to play and the shot clock off, Montgomery ran the clock down and the ball wound up in the hands of Wilson, who dribbled around for about 10 seconds before weaving around two Cardinal Newman defenders in the key to bank in the winning shot with two seconds to play.
“I wanted to go in strong and finish like in practice,” Wilson said. “With seven seconds to play I knew I was going in for the shot. I saw it hit the sweet spot (on the backboard) and go in. This is a great win for us.”
Wilson, a senior, said it was the biggest basket in her Vikings career.
“It definitely felt good to get one of those (game-winning shot) in,” Wilson said.
Said Bell: “Ashlee did a good job finishing. Players look for that opportunity and she knocked it home. She made a good move to the hoop.”
After several timeouts Cardinal Newman inbounded with two seconds remaining but a desperation half-court shot by Julia Bertolero fell well short and with it the Cardinals hopes of playing NBL spoiler on this night.
“It was so close (to an upset),” Mertle said.
Montgomery relied on the inside muscle of post player Claire Donnelly, who was playing under the weather and was only at about 75 percent, according to Bell. Even so, Donnelly did repeated damage to the Cardinals by cleaning the offensive glass and going back up for baskets. Cardinal Newman had no answers for Donnelly’s prowess in the paint on both ends of the court.
“Claire stepped up big time when she got the opportunities,” Bell said.
Donnelly led all scorers with 21 points. Wilson had 11 points, including three three-point baskets.
“Donnelly made some good plays,” Mertle said. “(But) I was pretty happy with our defense on the whole.”
Cardinal Newman was led by Salinas with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Kylie Kiech added 11 points and Londyn Inskeep chipped in 10 points.
The other critical stretch for Montgomery was during an eight-minute period in the first half when the Vikings turned a 16-11 deficit into a 34-20 lead with 3:17 to play in the second quarter.
The 18-4 Vikings run set the table for the fourth-quarter comeback by the Cardinals followed by the clincher by Wilson.
“The girls responded well (when Montgomery lost the lead). They didn’t go into the corner and hide,” Bell said.
“There is always something interesting that happens when we play here (at Cardinal Newman).”