NCS seedings: Newman gets No. 1 slot in boys tournament

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ah, the emotions of high school basketball. The anxiety, the joy, the sorrow, the frustration, the relief. They emerge during every game, and even on a lazy Sunday afternoon when no balls are echoing on wood floors.

The North Coast Section basketball seeding meeting was Sunday, and 44 local teams of various size and gender were among those receiving good news. Larger schools (divisions 1 through 3) begin play Tuesday, smaller schools (divisions 4 through 6) take the court Wednesday.

The fortunate teams include perennial powers and squads like the Kelseyville girls, who are postseason-bound for the first time in five years. They range from the Cardinal Newman boys, who drew the No. 1 seed in Division 4, to others that squeaked into the field, like the Sonoma Valley and Round Valley boys and the St. Vincent and Point Arena girls, all of whom claimed the final spots in their respective brackets.

“Where we ended up at (No. 12 in Division 6), against Cornerstone (Christian of Antioch), I’m happy with that,” Point Arena coach Leonard Bechtel said. “Our biggest goal, we just didn’t want to face the 1 or 2 team right off the bat. I think we have the talent that could actually do well in the first couple of games. It just depends on how the kids respond to pressure. We’re a young team.”

Section seeding day has always carried weight, but lately it has become more of a media event, with the NCS offering a live feed of the bracket presentation, a la the NCAA’s Selection Sunday.

“We talked all day today,” Roseland Prep boys coach Luis Escobar said of his players and assistants. “I understand you’re not supposed to, it’s Sunday and all that. But it’s a little different feeling on Selection Sunday. You want to know. A lot of my kids, this is their first time going to NCS. They’re excited.”

Escobar knew his Knights were headed to the playoffs; they received an automatic bid as champions of the NCL II. His interest was in the seeding, and Escobar wasn’t exactly blessed by the committee.

The NCS slotted Roseland Prep at No. 16, putting them squarely in the path of Cardinal Newman, the top boys team in the Redwood Empire this year.

“A tough draw, that’s an understatement,” Escobar said. “I mean, Newman, are you kidding? For one thing, they’ve been playing phenomenal basketball. They beat Montgomery a couple times, won their league. And (coach) Tom Bonfigli does such a good job with those kids. You watch video and you watch them in person, and they just breed hard work.”

Roseland Prep is learning that minute differences in seeding can make a big difference. Had the Knights drawn the No. 15 spot, they would have hosted a first-round game against St. Patrick/St. Vincent of Vallejo by virtue of their league title. But Cardinal Newman is also a league champion, having officially won the North Bay League, so Roseland Prep must play in the Cardinals’ raucous gym.

Escobar wasn’t complaining, though.

“We had our shots to have a better argument,” he said. “We lost to Willits, we lost to Piedmont, and they were both close games. … I told the boys when I talked to them: You play your cards. And that’s what we’ll do.”

Bonfigli, the Newman coach, said Friday that he expected his team to draw the top seed. A true maven of local prep basketball, he ticked off the Cardinals’ resume highlights after they had beaten rival Montgomery in the NBL Tournament final – regular-season league co-champions, winners of the league tournament, first place in three preseason tournaments, wins against Division 4 standouts St. Mary’s and Marin Catholic, an overall record of 26-2.
The committee agreed, making the Cardinals No. 1 for the first time since 2006.

Cardinal Newman is a heavy favorite against Roseland Prep, of course, but Bonfigli is leaving nothing to chance. He was already breaking down film Sunday afternoon, and he has seen enough of the Knights to know they have a capable, shot-blocking center in Francisco Valdez and a quick, slashing point guard in Pablo Avendano. Bonfigli went to Santa Clara University, and he’ll never forget the 15th-seeded Broncos upsetting No. 2 Arizona in the 1993 NCAA tournament.

“They’re seeded 16 but there’s not a lot of bad teams in there,” Bonfigli said of Roseland Prep. “Cloverdale is an outstanding team, they won their league and they’re the 9. I just think (the Knights) are local, they’ll bring lot of fans. It’s a game we need to obviously prepare for. We’ll start getting matched up Monday.”

The Newman-Roseland tilt is one of four all-local matchups in the first round. The other three are all in Division 6: Tomales at Anderson Valley boys, Rincon Valley Christian at Mendocino girls and Anderson Valley at Rio Lindo Adventist girls in Healdsburg.

Other teams awarded high seeds Sunday include the Montgomery boys (No. 2 in Division 2), who were NBL regular-season co-champions with Cardinal Newman; the Newman girls (No. 3 in Division 3), who went undefeated in the NBL but got squeezed in an ultra-competitive bracket; the Windsor girls (No. 3 in Division 2), who went 16-11; the Archbishop Hanna boys (No. 3 in Division 6), champions of the Small School Bridge League; and the Round Valley girls (No. 3 in Division 6), champions of the NCL III.

The Hanna boys and Round Valley girls both have first-round byes, as do the Rio Lindo Adventist boys and Summerfield Waldorf girls. All of them will tip off Saturday.

Tom Bonfigli's Cardinal Newman basketball team will enter the NCS playoffs as the top-seeded team among Division 4 boys. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Tom Bonfigli’s Cardinal Newman basketball team will enter the NCS playoffs as the top-seeded team among Division 4 boys. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)