NBL girls basketball: Cardinals earn share of league title

Cardinal Newman's Tiffany Salinas attempts to put up a shot while being double-teamed by Santa Rosa's Morgan Bertsch, left, and Kelly Luekens.  (ERIK CASTRO / For The Press Democrat)

Cardinal Newman’s Tiffany Salinas attempts to put up a shot while being double-teamed by Santa Rosa’s Morgan Bertsch, left, and Kelly Luekens. (ERIK CASTRO / For The Press Democrat)

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Birthday girl Hailey Vice-Neat was the hero Thursday night as Cardinal Newman grabbed a share of the North Bay League title by defeating visiting Santa Rosa, 62-53.

The 15-year-old freshman scored a career-high 25, all but two of those in the second half.

The Cardinals began the evening one-game back of Santa Rosa. So, both teams finished league play with 13-1 records.

The Panthers led 35-33 heading to the final period and then were outscored, 29-18.

Santa Rosa played the second half without 6-foot-4 Morgan Bertsch. The center hit her head on the court when she was fouled and fell six seconds before intermission.

Bertsch was checked at halftime for concussion symptoms and again prior to the fourth quarter. The decision both times was to keep her on the bench.

The Panthers led 26-18 at intermission.

Without Bertsch in the middle blocking shots and rebounding, Newman began cutting into the lead

The home team took the lead briefly with 1:35 left in the third as guard Kylie Kiech was fouled making a layup. After converting the free throw, the score was 33-31.

Santa Rosa quickly tied the score on two free throws by Maddie Taylor and took the lead back on a put-back basket by Devin Murray.

The Panthers held onto the lead until the midway point of the fourth. They took the lead on Tiffany Salinas’ old-fashioned three-point play, 45-44.

Santa Rosa tied the game for the last time, 49-49, only to have Julia Bertolero put Newman up for good with 2:15 remaining.

Newman finished the game on an 11-4 run.

“It’s been a heckuva birthday,” said the 6-foot-2 Vice-Neat. “To be champs of our league is something I’ll always remember.”

Vice-Neat scored her team’s first eight points in the third quarter.

“My confidence level went way up after I got a quick start coming out of halftime,” she said. “I wasn’t going to stop shooting after that.”

Vice-Neat was one of three Cardinals to reach double figures.

Sophomore Salinas had 21, most of those in the first half and Kylie Kiech contributed 12.

Part of the Cardinals’ comeback win can be attributed to excellent free throw shooting. They were perfect in 11 attempts in the fourth quarter and hit 18 of 21 foul shots overall.

Santa Rosa went to the line only 10 times and made eight.

Bertsch, who came in averaging 17.6 per game, scored six points before being injured.

Katie Daly, who was averaging 10, picked up some of the slack and finished with a team-high 20.

The loss snapped an 18-game winning streak for the Panthers.

Santa Rosa finishes the regular season with a 24-2 mark.

When the Panthers played the Cardinals on Jan. 24, they won at home, 64-51.

Newman coach Monica Mertle wins her first league title in her third year leading the program. The team’s overall record is 20-6.

“This group has great heart,” she said. “They’re young but they don’t play young.

“We cleaned things up defensively from the first time we played. That made a big difference”

The Panthers stayed in a man-to-man the entire game.

The teams could meet for a third time in the finals of next week’s NBL tournament.

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