By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Survive and advance was Cardinal Newman’s accomplishment Tuesday, earning a spot in a NorCal boys’ state basketball final.
Playing quick yet physical defense to overcome an early deficit against Soquel, the Cardinals ran out to a big lead and then withstood a Knights offensive assault. A huge rebounding advantage and good enough free throw shooting late secured the 57-51 win.
“When you play defense and board well usually good things happen,” said Corey Hammell, who led Cardinal Newman with 15 points and 10 rebounds. “They’re a good team. They were game. We used our size well.”
The deepest playoff run in Soquel boys’ basketball history ended with a hard fought game by the undersized Knights.
“We always play hard. We play good defense and shut teams down,” said Cody Valcarcel, who paced Soquel with 15 points. “We just didn’t capitalize enough tonight.”
Playing a steady four quarters of basketball is what Cardinal Newman must do again in Saturday’s finals for the NorCal half of the CIF State Boys Division 4 Basketball Championships. The opponent is Riordan, out of San Francisco.
This time the Cardinals must win away from home with the game set for American Canyon High School, south of Napa.
Cardinal Newman played up to its top seeding Tuesday when appearing to seize control of the game.
Scoring a dozen unanswered points over the third and fourth quarters, Cardinal Newman forged a seven-point lead. Five players scored for the Cardinals in the final period, with Tim McCullough hitting for eight of his 11 in the contest.
Soquel responded with a 14-2 burst including 3-pointers on four successive possessions. With just over a minute remaining, the Knights were within three after another deep make from Sam Walters, who finished with 13.
A turnover after a defensive stop forced the Knights to foul. The Cardinals closed out the contest from the free throw line.
“They’re very tough. They’re physical,” said Soquel coach Stu Walters. “We never quit. We never have. This is a great group of guys.”
Having to earn the home win was a good test for Cardinal Newman.
“They defend well. They really had a nose for the ball,” said Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli. “We knew we had an advantage on the boards. We did a great job taking care of the ball.”
With more than double Soquel’s rebounds in the game, Cardinal Newman created repeated scoring opportunities.
Fast and fearless, Soquel kept the game close with steals and a disciplined passing game to find open shooters. Soquel used a 15-3 run to take the first quarter lead. Then the Cardinals played determined on defense, closing passing lanes and getting out on shooters. Cardinal Newman only allowed 13 points in the second and third periods, leading by ten going into the final period.
“Defensively, after the first quarter we locked them down, other than that one stretch,” Hammell said.
Soquel’s highest scoring quarter, fueled by ball denials and quick hands on defense, wasn’t enough to dig out from the deep deficit.
“We wanted to win. But they’re a good team,” Valcarcel said. “It was a great season. We enjoyed it a lot.”
Cardinal Newman’s great season keeps getting better. Two more wins and the Cardinals can call themselves state champions.
“We’ve still got a ways to go,” Hammel said.