By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Cardinal Newman boys basketball team exploited its huge height advantage and superior bench to win its 17th consecutive game and easily handle visiting Cloverdale, 75-46, in a first round North Coast Section Division 4 playoff game Wednesday night.
“Cardinal Newman executed well. We couldn’t score inside; Cardinal Newman’s defense was just too tough,” Cloverdale coach Steve Bernardi said. “They (Cardinals) are deep and well-coached. They are a very good team. They have a good chance to go all the way in the NCS.”
While Cloverdale’s season comes to an end, Cardinal Newman (27-2) hosts seventh-seed Justin Siena at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Cardinals beat Justin-Siena 68-38 in a preseason game in Napa.
“We are going to need to play harder and be better on the backboards because (Justin Siena) will be tougher (than Cloverdale) on rebounding,” Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli said.
Cardinal Newman thrives on home-cooking, having compiled a 31-1 record in its gym over the past two seasons. Its only loss was 62-61 to St. Patrick-St. Vincent in last year’s NCS semifinal. Despite a game effort, Cloverdale was not going to be the team to deal the Cardinals their first home loss of the season.
“Cloverdale is good; they are just young,” Bonfigli said. “It is hard to be young and inexperienced and come in here and play us in our gym.”
The Eagles quickly found out that they could not score in the paint and had to rely solely on outside shooting to stay within shouting distance of the bigger and more physical Cardinals. Cloverdale (15-12) did convert nine-of-22 shots from behind the 3-point line to keep Cardinal Newman’s lead from going over 20 points for most of the game.
“We lack an inside game. If we weren’t shooting well we would have lost by 50 points,” Bernardi said. “We had fun playing here. We gave it a whirl and it was a good experience.”
The Cardinals led 24-13 at the end of the first quarter and 44-27 at the break. If it weren’t for Cloverdale’s Isiah Warren, who had 18 points in the first half all from long jump shots, it would have been ugly for the Eagles.
“Warren is a good player,” Bernardi said. “He has shot well all year.”
“I thought Cloverdale played really well, especially in the first half,” Bonfigli said. They shot the ball well from the outside.”
Cloverdale had a 9-3 edge in 3-point shots converted but that did not make up for Cardinal Newman dominating the boards, especially on the offensive glass.
Even so, Cloverdale held its own in the third quarter and actually outscored the Cardinals, 17-15, in the period to only trail 59-44 at the start of the fourth quarter. Warren and fellow shooting guard Jason Hibbein had the hot hands for Cloverdalein the third quarter.
The wheels fell off for the Eagles, however, in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals rattled off a 12-0 run in the first four minutes to put the game away. Cardinal Newman outscored the worn-out Eagles 16-2 in the final quarter.
“Cloverdale maybe ran out of steam in the fourth quarter,” Bonfigli said. “But they played well and they played hard.”
Cardinal Newman had four players in double-figures in scoring in a balanced attack. Kyle King led the way with 14 points, Tim McCullough and Corey Hammell each added 13 points and Sean Martin chipped in 10 points, including hitting all three of the Cardinals’ 3-point shots.
Warren led all scorers with 21 points, including converting four three-point shots. Hibbein added 11 points, including hitting three shots from beyond the arc.
In the end it was a good first-round tune-up game for the Cardinals who are likely going to see a deeper and more athletic opponent in Justin Sienna, which will be out to avenge its loss to the Cardinals earlier this season.
“Playoffs are about getting the job done,” Bonfigli said. “We won tonight and we are moving on.”