By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Montgomery boys basketball team is having one of its best seasons in years. Cardinal Newman can’t say the same.
But when these two teams get together with a North Bay League title on the line, you just know it’s going to come down to the final seconds.
“There’s nothing like Cardinal Newman-Montgomery,” Cardinals coach Tom Bonfigli said. The last five years, “we’ve played for the championship every year.”
In Monday’s installment at Newman, the Vikings overcame a nine-point, second-quarter deficit and survived some tense moments down the stretch to pull out a 64-60 victory.
See the boys in action here
Sweeping Cardinal Newman for the season, Montgomery is assured of at least a share of the league championship, with two games remaining during this busy week.
This one wasn’t easy. James Ryan’s driving bank shot for Newman cut the visitors’ lead to 61-60 with about 35 seconds left. Montgomery’s Noah Orlik hit both ends of a one-and-one with 24 seconds remaining, but Alec Raven’s front end bounced out with 11 seconds on the clock, giving the Cardinals one last chance to tie the game.
Newman point guard Connor Head, double-teamed in the backcourt, slid to his knees and was called for traveling with 4.9 seconds left, though he and Bonfigli argued vociferously that Head was still bouncing the ball at the time.
Orlik hit one of two free throws with less than a second left to finally ice the game.
“They’re a really good team,” Bonfigli said. “They’re gonna be the top seed in Division 2 (in the North Coast Section playoffs). But I think our kids are really improving.”
Head, in particular, was outstanding. He lit up the Vikings for 25 points, including 16 in the second half. He scored nine of Monty’s 13 points in the fourth quarter, and assisted on another basket.
Sophomore forward Connor Rubattino chipped in with 15 points for the Cardinals, and junior big man Justin Botteri made important contributions.
Montgomery’s scoring was as balanced as usual. Kiel Long led the way with 15 points, followed by Orlik and Raven with 14 each, and Sam Averbuck with 12.
“They shot the ball lights-out,” Averbuck said of his adversaries. “And we were fortunate enough to answer back. And I think that’s a compliment to our versatility offensively, for us to be able to hit shots and attack the rim with many guys.
“We don’t have just one or two guys that are hogging the ball every time.”
Monty spent most of the second quarter trailing, but Long keyed an 8-0 run that made it close, and Averbuck sent the Vikings into the locker room with a 33-31 lead by nailing a 3-pointer from the left corner as the clock expired.
The Vikings improved to 19-5 overall, 11-1 in the NBL while winning one of their few close games of the league season. Cardinal Newman fell to 14-9 and 8-3, but seems to playing its best basketball of the season.
“This is like the type of game I watched when I was a kid, when Robby Burroughs and Zac Tiedeman were playing,” Averbuck said. “Just to be in that atmosphere, it was great to play in.”
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.