By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
This was fun, this Cardinal Newman-Soquel basketball game Tuesday night. This was fun, the way chewing your fingernails, biting your lip, moving every two seconds in your seat, can be fun. Fun because Soquel was quick, a gliding kind of quick, a flowing burst of quick that can pick pockets while you look around to see where your wallet went, or in Newman’s case Tuesday night, the basketball.
As has been said many times in every sport, you can coach ’em up on just about everything except speed. Speed doesn’t take a timeout because that defeats its purpose, to frazzle and destroy through frenetic activity. Oh yes, there were times Tuesday night that Newman looked like it was running, trying to catch a train already leaving the station. Soquel had that much speed.
“We average seven turnovers a game,” said Newman coach Tom Bonfigli.
Tuesday night the Cardinals had 21.
But Newman took a breath. Several actually. Took its pulse; had to slow that as well.
How many times did Bonfigli tell his team to calm down?
“All the time,” the coach said.
As if that’s all Soquel was, a bunch of roadrunners. The Knights like to shoot the basketball from as far away from the basket as possible, San Francisco preferably. Soquel’s Tucker Wiget, all 5-foot-8 of him, would throw up these treys that should have asked permission to re-enter the gym. In a 97-second span in the fourth quarter — Bonfigli said it was only 37 seconds — Soquel made four of them. Almost felt like rain, those threes came so often, so fast.
“You can control a lot of things,” Bonfigli said, “but you can’t control the 25-foot shot.”
Meaning, no one can play tight defense that far out from the basket.
Right about this time, dear reader, you may be asking yourself, “Hey, dude, didn’t Newman win this game? Isn’t Newman just two games from the state championship? Isn’t Newman really special and wonderful and a joy to behold?”
And I would answer yes to all of that. Newman did win, 57-51, to advance in the NorCals. According to Bonfigli, the 31-3 Cardinals now have tied the Empire’s large-school record for most victories in a basketball season (Newman’s 1989 team had 31). All that’s true. But here’s something else that’s true.
Bonfigli spent nearly all of his post-game time talking about Soquel. It was his way of saving how much he admired their game. Of course he wasn’t admiring their game when he was coaching against them but now that it was over, he had a lot of fun admiring. Because Soquel’s speed and patience for the open shot created openings for someone as short at the 5-foot-8 Wiget to cast off without a hand in his face. Bonfigli admired that, being fast but patient, two qualities that often don’t go together in basketball.
“If you give them this much room,” said Bonfigli, pushing me away at arm’s length, “the ball (shot) is gone. It isn’t a jump shot but it is a very rhythmic one.” During the season, the Knights averaged six three-pointers a game. Soquel made 10 of them Tuesday night.
With 6:07 left in the game, the score was Newman 48, Soquel 31. Soquel looked dead in the water. The Knights had missed their last eight threes, including all five in the third quarter. The game was over. Had to be. That’s a 17-point lead in a high school basketball game. This isn’t the NBA, where a blink could contain 17 points.
In the stands SSU basketball Pat Fuscaldo turned to a friend and said, “Watch. This is when Soquel makes a run.” A team that expert at the long ball, having gone that long without hitting one, Soquel was due.
It was a 12-2 run, all 12 points scored on four three-pointers. Now that 48-31 Newman lead was 50-43.
Time to panic. The cakewalk had turned into swamp grass, hard going. Pulses would elevate. Passes quicken to nobody there. Except. . .
“Newman is well-coached,” Fuscaldo said. “I knew Newman would hold them off.”
In that last 4:05, Newman took its time with the ball — did frazzle and lose the ball three times — let Soquel hatchet them and controlled the game at the free throw line.
“I had watched 10 hours of Soquel game film,” Bonfigli said. “I knew they had it (four threes) in them. I watched how they led all the game against Archbishop Mitty only for Mitty to beat them at the buzzer. Our kids showed a lot of composure.”
It’s not every day a team can turn the ball more than 21 times and its coach will say later it showed a lot of composure. Newman did when it was necessary and that’s when composure counts the most. That’s why they call it “crunch time.” Crunch or be crunched.
Newman has every right to be proud of this victory and Bonfigli will let them celebrate and savor.
“For 10 hours,” he said. “This is the playoffs. This is no time to take a bow.”
Time to move quickly. I’d like to think Soquel got Newman in the mood for that.
For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.