NCS boys basketball: Cardinal Newman can’t keep up in 61-54 title game loss to Marin Catholic

Marin Catholic's Frankie Calcaterra, right, and Joey Calcaterra, left, stop Cardinal Newman's James Ryan from going to the basket during the North Coast Section division 4 boys championship game held at Santa Rosa Junior College, Friday, March 6, 2015. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

Marin Catholic’s Frankie Calcaterra, right, and Joey Calcaterra, left, stop Cardinal Newman’s James Ryan from going to the basket during the North Coast Section division 4 boys championship game held at Santa Rosa Junior College, Friday, March 6, 2015. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

By PHIL BARBER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Falling into a 20-point hole proved to be a great formula for ratcheting up the excitement at Santa Rosa JC’s Haehl Pavilion. But it’s no way to win a North Coast Section championship.

The Cardinal Newman boys looked tentative and sloppy at the outset of Friday night’s NCS Division 4 title game, and neither a feverish fourth-quarter rally nor an enthusiastic partisan crowd could make up the difference. The Cardinals fell 61-54 to Marin Catholic, delaying that long-awaited section crown.

Cardinal Newman has won three NCS titles, but none since 1993. This was the school’s fourth loss in the section championship game in the past decade.

Friday’s game capped an improbable run for Marin Catholic (22-10), the No. 6 seed in Division 4. To claim the banner, the Wildcats had to beat, in succession, the No. 3 seed (Salesian), the No. 2 (St. Patrick/St. Vincent) and the No. 1 (Newman), all on the road.

“Coming here was just another foe, basically a home gym,” Marin Catholic coach Mike Saia said. “We got on the same bus, we sat in the same seats, and we were gonna try and do the same thing, and that was get a win. No doubt we were confident. But Cardinal Newman’s such a quality team, and Tom has them so well prepared that it’s just another level when you play against ’em.”

The Cardinals (29-3) looked plenty tough in the fourth quarter, trimming a 13-point deficit to four points at the 2:36 mark, and again with about a minute left on a driving basket by senior guard James Ryan. By that time, the Newman student section was delirious. But after a Wildcats timeout, Marin Catholic’s Jackson Snyder scored down low, and Newman would never get closer than five points.

The key for the Wildcats was free-throw shooting. They made just 1 of 9 field goals in the fourth quarter, but hit 9 of 11 from the stripe, averting an epic meltdown. For the game, Marin Catholic made 76.2 percent of its free throws, Cardinal Newman 57.7 percent.

The real problem for the Cardinals, though, was a sputtering start from the gate. They missed their first six shots and immediately fell into an 8-0 deficit. The Wildcats, meanwhile, were red hot. Looking poised and efficient, they hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter and led 21-11 at the start of the second.

Afterward, the Newman side had a hard time explaining the poor early showing.

“I’m not gonna tarnish how (Marin Catholic) played, but that’s not the (Newman) team that played 31 games,” Bonfigli said. “We outrebounded them, and we couldn’t put balls back in the hole. Didn’t make free throws. Made a couple of bad decisions like fouling deep in the shot clock.”

(See more photos from the game)

Senior power forward Justin Botteri noted that the Cardinals’ pregame walk-through wasn’t as focused as usual, and neither was the first half of the game. Friday’s lesson?

“That we’re vulnerable,” Botteri said. “We were on a good streak, and I think a few of guys thought we couldn’t lose.”

The waning seconds of the first period were illustrative. Cardinal Newman could have played for the last shot, but top scorer Connor Rubattino shot a contested 3-pointer with several seconds left and missed. Marin Catholic’s Joey Calcaterra, a fluid-shooting sophomore, then planted a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer.

“We were down seven, then we were down 10,” Newman coach Tom Bonfigli said. “That’s kind of how the game went.”

The score was 21-13 early in the second quarter when the Wildcats made the run that decided the game, a 12-1 spree that put the Cardinals 17 points behind. Guard Charlie Duysen sparked the effort, scoring on a rebounded miss, dunking on a breakaway and slicing to the basket off the dribble for another two points, while setting up teammate Frankie Calcaterra (Joey’s older brother) for an easy bucket on another fast break.

Moments later, Marin Catholic pushed its lead to a game-high 20 points, at 36-16, on a 3-pointer by Andrew Panicacci.

Newman was never able to fully recover, and the visiting Wildcats avenged an early-season loss to their Catholic-school rival.

Botteri had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Cardinals, while Rubattino added 15 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore Damian Wallace scored 14 off the bench, and senior center Gunnar Walker grabbed seven rebounds. Joey (18 points) and Frankie Calcaterra (15) paced Marin Catholic.

The Cardinals’ season is not over. They will play in the CIF NorCal playoffs, starting next week. The bracket will be released Sunday, and Bonfigli is hoping for a 4 or 5 seed and a couple of home games.

“These guys won 29 games, more than any team in Northern California,” Bonfigli said. “They deserve it.”