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NCS basketball playoffs: Cardinals turn it loose in third quarter, knock off Justin-Siena 70-54

By PETER FOURNIER
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cardinal Newman's Corey Hammell, left, puts up a shot as Justin-Siena's Zane Purewal, right, defends during Saturday's NCS playoff game.

Cardinal Newman’s Corey Hammell, left, puts up a shot as Justin-Siena’s Zane Purewal, right, defends during Saturday’s NCS playoff game.

There was no sense of panic on the Cardinal Newman boys basketball team when it went into the locker room at halftime up by two points over Justin-Siena because the Cardinals knew that “their quarter” was coming up.

Newman went on a 16-2 run to open the half, pulling ahead to a 14-point lead, finishing with a 70-54 victory Saturday night in the quarterfinals of the NCS Division IV playoffs.

“You know what, the third quarter has been our quarter the whole year long,” Cardinals coach Tom Bonfigli said. “And you know what? The third quarter is our quarter for two reasons: These kids are tough kids and they’re seniors, and you can tell them what you want them to do and they’ll go out and do it.”

The Cardinals capitalized on the Braves’ slow start in the third, but Justin-Siena charged back. A bucket by Sean Ryan cut the Newman lead to six. However the Cardinals pulled away from that point, holding the Braves to just 11 points for the remainder of the game.

Justin-Siena’s brief scoring burst didn’t rattle nerves.

“They came back, but when our guys had to make stops, they did and it’s about making stops when you’re protecting a lead,” Bonfigli said. “We pulled the ball back some and worked the clock and passed the ball well. I thought we played with a lot of poise and a lot of intelligence.”

The Cardinals held the Braves to just 13 points in three of four quarters when the teams last played in December. In that Newman blowout victory, Justin-Siena slowly came back too, and trailed by just 11 at one point in the fourth quarter before Newman’s defense shut them down.

Bonfigli said playing tough is just “textbook.”

“The cornerstone of this team has been defense all year long,” he said. “They made a bunch of free throws in the second half. They had 24 points and most of those were free throws. I just thought our guys played very, very hard against a very, very good team.”

Corey Hammell led Newman with 21 points and 17 rebounds. In the teams’ last meeting where the Cardinals grabbed 36 total rebounds, Hammell’s three-point shooting helped Newman pull ahead early.

The center moved to the post Saturday to keep the Cardinals in front down the stretch.

“I didn’t want today to be the last game of my high school career,” Hammell said. “So I just wanted to go out there, do what I do, rebound and give my team a chance to win.”

Bonfigli had a simple description of Hammell.

“He’s relentless, is the word you want to use when you talk about Corey,” Bonfigli said.

Hammell said the team stayed focused when things got physical in the later minutes.

“Usually as the game goes on, things start to tighten up,” he said. “We kept our poise, our composure and just played our game.”

Newman didn’t have the same defensive dominance it had in December when the Braves were held scoreless for nearly eight minutes in the first half.

“They were only down by two at halftime,” Bonfigli said. “We decided the game in the third quarter. The game was decided in the third quarter.”

In the first round, Newman cruised to a 75-46 victory over Cloverdale and Justin-Siena defeated Piedmont 77-65 on Wednesday. The Cardinals host the winner of the Marin Catholic-McKinleyville match-up in the NCS Division 4 semis next Wednesday.