By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
VALLEJO — Overcoming turnovers and a dominant performance by the other team’s star, the Cardinal Newman girls showed poise and tenacity in battling to a six-point lead with about 5½ minutes to play Wednesday night at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High.
But everything the young Cardinals had built over the first 26½ minutes came crashing down in a flurry of St. Pat’s baskets, and Newman wound up being eliminated from the North Coast Section Division 4 playoffs with a 58-49 loss as the host Lady Bruins finished with a 15-0 run.
It was a shocking end to a game that had been almost dead even throughout the night — and especially when the 10th-seeded Cardinals had not trailed from the 2:38 mark of the second quarter through the 5:00 mark of the fourth. As the action became more frenetic late in the contest, it was No. 7 St. Patrick-St. Vincent that handled the pressure.
“We started going a little too fast, and we needed to kind of slow down,” Cardinal Newman coach Monica Mertle said. “But it’s a learning experience. Thankfully, with the team that we have, we’re young enough to where we got a lot more chances at this.”
The Cardinals don’t have a single senior on their roster. Mertle starts four sophomore guards and a freshman post player. Then again, the Lady Bruins were nearly as inexperienced, with four freshmen on the roster and a sophomore in the starting lineup.
The difference: St. Pat’s had the only senior starter in the game. That was forward Taylor Faucett, and she was as good as advertised.
Faucett entered the game averaging 18.4 points, and she nearly nailed that figure with 19 against Cardinal Newman. She has a strong dribble-drive game with a variety of spins and scoops, and if opponents collapse on her too obviously, she’s a nifty passer out of the paint.
With all that going for her, Faucett never really took over Wednesday’s game. Mertle put sophomore Gabby Singler on her and instructed all of the Cardinals to face-guard her no matter where she was on the court. For the most part, it worked. Faucett ad-libbed a lot of her points, scoring off steals and length-of-court drives after rebounds.
For much of the night, Newman freshman Tiffany Salinas was the offensive answer to Faucett. Salinas scored 13 of the Cardinals’ first 18 points, working against a St. Pat’s team that had no one to match her combination of height and agility. The Lady Bruins started to collapse more on Salinas, though, and she scored just six points the rest of the way — and none over the final 7½ minutes. She finished with 12 rebounds to go with her 19 points.
Cardinal Newman got a big boost with 3:32 left in the third quarter when Faucett picked up her fourth foul on a reach. Londyn Inskeep scored on a baseline drive a few seconds later to push the Cardinals; lead to 40-32, matching their high for the game. Faucett’s foul trouble did not seem to knock the Lady Bruins off their balance, though.
“She’s used to playing with three and four (fouls), because she has to play every minute,” St. Pat’s coach Nadine Walker said. “She is our offense, she is our defense, she is our team. We’ve had games where she’s not been on the floor. Tonight was a night, like I told her, ‘Hey, I know you have three, I know you have four, but you’re gonna stay in.’”
Faucett sat for only a few minutes of the third quarter, then returned for the fourth. The score went back and forth, and stood at 49-43 after Newman kicked the ball around the arc and Kylie Kiech drained a 3-pointer.
Kiech finished with 12 points, and Inskeep had 10 points and six rebounds.
Kiech’s trey would be the visitors’ final points of the game, though. The Lady Bruins (15-13) went on a quick burst — a second-chance 3-pointer by junior Kiana Desrosiers, a Faucett putback off an offensive rebound, a basket by Selena Caoile when she was left open inside — to grab the lead at 50-49 with about 4:30 remaining.
St. Pat’s gradually built its advantage from there.
Really, the big problem for Cardinal Newman (16-9) all night was St. Pat’s pressing full-court defense. The Cardinals turned over the ball 24 times, frequently failing to get it past halfcourt. Even when they did, they sometimes remained flustered and had passes sail into the seats or wind up in the hands of a Bruin.
Mertle acknowledged that her team doesn’t see a lot of pressing in Sonoma County.
“That was one of the things that we talked to the girls about, that ‘This isn’t gonna be the usual game. We’re gonna have to take that pressure,’” she said. “And what happened is, the first few minutes, I don’t know if it shocked us, but we kind of had to adjust to it. We had to adapt to it. And then once we got through that initiation phase and knew what we were in for, then we were fine.”
Despite the final letdown, Mertle saw much to be happy about in her Cardinals. Their three main goals, she said, were to compete every night, to play with heart and to maintain the desire to improve. In Mertle’s eyes, her team was three for three.
“The thing that made me very proud is that I feel very confident in saying we were at our best at the end of the season,” she said. “And a lot of teams can’t say thatA lot of teams come out strong and kind of dwindle away. We have gotten better and better as the season goes on.” And we’re gonna take that into next year and continue to get better.”
St. Patrick-St. Vincent advances to play No. 2 Salesian on Saturday. St. Pat’s lost to the Mustangs twice during the regular season, by a combined 65 points.
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.