By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SACRAMENTO — After addressing the media in an interview room following Saturday’s CIF Division 4 state championship game, the Cardinal Newman players and coaches shuffled from the dais and exited for their locker room.
They forgot one thing: their trophy.
And that tells you everything you need to know about the result of this taut game at Sleep Train Arena. No one forgets a first-place trophy. Second place is a little easier to overlook. And that’s too bad, because the Cardinals played with skill, heart and efficiency for most of their game against Pacific Hills of West Hollywood. They eventually fell 58-52, joining the 1989, 1996 and 2007 squads as state runners-up.
In a game that never saw a double-digit lead, Cardinal Newman went up 46-45 on a pair of free throws by big man Corey Hammell with 4:16 left. That’s the amount of time that stood between the Cardinals and history.
They couldn’t close the deal. The team that protected the ball so well throughout much of the game (with just one turnover in the entire first half) gave it away three times in the final three-plus minutes, and Pacific Hills used its superior athleticism to pull away. Jahmel Taylor, Namon Wright and Marcus Jackson — the Bruins’ three best players, all of them headed to DI college programs — combined to score their team’s final 13 points, all after a TV timeout at 4:00.
“Everyone talks about Southern California,” Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli said. “That’s a great place, and there’s a lot of great teams down there. But I’m proud of my guys. We were not intimidated. We expected to win. We thought we could win, and we didn’t. And we have nothing but great compliments placed on the team that beat us. But my guys played like champions.”
Taylor, Wright and Jackson are matchup nightmares for any foe. The Cardinals didn’t have individual players who could go toe to toe with the trio, but they made up for it with the sort of spread-the-ball teamwork that got them this far. Each of the Bruins’ five starters played at least 24 of 32 minutes, and Taylor, Wright and Jackson were on the floor for the entire game. Newman went with a true seven-man rotation, and six players scored.
The game was enlivened by a little coaching cat-and-mouse.
Bonfigli watched tape of the Bruins and knew they had games where they shot 35 or 40 free throws. To keep them from penetrating at will, the Cardinals went to a 1-3-1 zone, a defensive scheme they had hardly played this season. It was partially successful, with Pacific Hills hitting just 5 of 21 shots from 3-point range.
“The videos that we watched, they never went 1-3-1,” Pacific Hills coach Ivan Barahona said. “We saw them go man-to-man all year, and they kind of jumped into a 2-3 zone for some games. … So that 1-3-1 did catch us off-guard. It wasn’t much a surprise as it was more an adjustment on our part.”
Barahona had some ace cards of his own. Most observers expected the super-quick Bruins to deploy a full-court press. But with a shallow bench, an NBA-sized court that is longer than a regulation high school hardwood and an opponent that handles the ball well, they didn’t press until late in the game.
When they finally did, the Bruins were very successful. They harried Newman into three late turnovers, directly turning two of them into buckets that helped pad their lead in the closing minutes.
Pacific Hills even had some luck on its side. Jackson got the Bruins the lead for good by banking in a 3-pointer from NBA range.
The Cardinals also seemed to make a tactical error with less than 40 seconds on the clock. Down by six points, the Newman coaches shouted at their players to foul, but it took them about 25 seconds to get it done. The players admitted afterward that they heard the instructions. Admittedly, it was a tough situation for the Cardinals; they had only four fouls at the time, so had to get whistled three times before pushing the Bruins to the free-throw line.
“We could have started fouling a little earlier,” Bonfigli said. “We should have. … Given that, given the amount of time that was left, I’m not sure that would’ve made a lot of difference.”
Jackson finally hit a pair of free throws with five seconds left to make it 58-50, and Kyle King’s buzzer-beating basket for Cardinal Newman was only for the stat book.
Hammell and Tim McCullough paced Newman with 14 points each, and Hammell led the way with eight rebounds. Kenny Love added 10 points. All of them are seniors. Jackson led all scorers with 23 points, Wright had 17 and Taylor 14.
If the game on the court was almost dead even, the battle in the stands was a rout. Cardinal Newman filled several sections of the arena, while tiny Pacific Hills brought a couple-dozen supporters. The partisan atmosphere didn’t seem to bother the Bruins, though.
“We’re a really small school, so every game is an away game — even at our house,” Jackson said.
It was a definite boost for the Cardinals, though. They had treated their fans to an incredible season, including an undefeated run through the North Bay League, and this was the crowd’s chance to pay it back.
“It meant a lot for them all to come,” Love said. “I didn’t really know that we had that many people at the school, to be honest.”
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CIF Division IV Boys State Championship
Pacific Hills 58, Cardinal Newman 52
Pacific Hills 15 18 8 17 — 58
Cardinal Newman 12 15 14 11 — 52
Pacific Hills: Marcus Jackson 8-18 4-4 23, Namon Wright 8-12 0-2 17, Jahmel Taylor 4-11 5-5 14, Jonathon Mills 2-4 0-0 2.
Cardinal Newman: Kenny Love 2-9 5-6 10, Corey Hammell 4-8 5-6 14, Tim McCullough 5-8 1-2 14, Kyle King 3-8 0-0 6, Sean Martin 3-7 0-0 6, Julian Torres 1-1 0-0 2.
Field goals: Pacific Hills 22-48 (45.8 percent), Newman 18-41 (43.9 percent)
Free throws: Pacific Hills 9-11 (81.8 percent), Newman 11-14 (78.6 percent)
3-pointers: Pacific Hills 5-21 (23.8 percent) (Jackson 3, Taylor, Wright), Newman 5-13 (38.4 percent) (McCullough 3, Hammell, Love).
Rebounds: Pacific Hills 28 (Wright 11), Newman 23 (Hammell 8)
Assists: Pacific Hills 4, Newman 2
Turnovers: Pacific Hills 8, Newman 8
Fouls: Pacific Hills 11, Newman 11
Records: PH 29-4; CN 33-4