By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A week’s layoff was good for Cardinal Newman, time to grind in practice and prepare for a state playoff push.
Cardinal Newman came out Saturday in their Nor Cal quarterfinal against Corning focused on offense and fierce on defense. Leading by a dozen after the first quarter, the Cardinals later matched Corning’s best and took a 54-37 win.
“We were ready after working on our offense and boxing out for six days in practice,” said Kyle King, a sparkplug off the bench in a post player’s body.
“They’re pretty physical. But we were well prepared.”
Corning needed to play four quarters of tough defense and rugged rebounding to win. But Corning lacked that edge early and could not overcome the deep deficit.
“We just didn’t play hard from the start. We were timid,” said Nick Hoag, who led Corning with a well earned 10 points. “Once we played our game we knew we could stay with them.”
Cardinal Newman played four quarters of basketball befitting their top seed in the Nor Cal half of the CIF State Boys Division IV Basketball Championships. Cardinal Newman is at home Tuesday for a semifinal.
To keep the run going, Cardinal Newman must defend as they did against Corning.
Cardinal Newman totaled both eight blocked shots and eight steals on the night, a bunch coming in the first quarter.
“We’re going to be everyone’s biggest game. When you play that well early, that really gives you an edge,” said Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli.
Corning also was well prepared. Nobody better than former Cardinal Newman player and longtime Corning coach Bill Mache appreciates Cardinal Newman’s basketball pedigree.
“They’re fundamental, competitive. They’re the biggest team we’ve faced,” Mache said. “Our boys are used to adversity. We have to rebound and we’ve got to play defense.”
Recognizing that Cardinal Newman can score quick and often didn’t help Corning early in the contest.
With both Corey Hammell and Kenny Love scoring half of their dozen each in the game, Cardinal Newman took command in the first quarter.
“The game plan was to come out hard. After that Salesian loss it gave us a lot of energy,” King said.
That loss was in the North Coast Section Division Four final a week earlier, ending a 19-game Cardinal Newman winning streak.
Cardinal Newman was back on the court practicing the next day. Players were committed to playing with a greater sense of urgency at both ends of the court.
“Tonight we were hitting our shots. Our offense flowed a lot better,” King said.
Tested in the third quarter, Cardinal Newman’s matched Corning’s best period with King scoring four of his nine points in the game. Six players scored for Cardinal Newman, demonstrating the team’s depth.
Corning opened the second half scoring with a pair of baskets to gain momentum out of the locker room. Mache and his assistants urged Corning to “go to work.”
Leading the Corning push was Michael Shoemaker, who totaled nine in the game to go with a game-high seven rebounds.
Yet the Corning team would only match baskets with Cardinal Newman in the third quarter.
The loss was only Corning’s third on the season. With a North Section Division 4 title and the first Nor Cal playoff win in school history, Corning completed a record campaign.
While the best season in Corning boys’ basketball history didn’t have a storybook ending, the outsized squad could be proud of their effort against the top seed in Nor Cal Division 4. The faithful from tight-knit Central California community let their team know from the stands.
“It’s not the way we wanted it to end. But this is probably one of the best feelings we could have,” Hoag said.
Survive and advance is the theme in the prep postseason. Cardinal Newman is playing on.
“We have a special opportunity,” King said. “We’re excited.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.