CIF basketball playoffs: Cardinal Newman girls facing ‘scrappy’ opponent

Cardinal Newman head girls basketball coach Monica Mertle, second from right, works with her team during practice held as Cardinal Newman High School, Thursday, March 12, 2015. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

Cardinal Newman head girls basketball coach Monica Mertle, second from right, works with her team during practice held as Cardinal Newman High School, Thursday, March 12, 2015. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

By LORI. A CARTER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Cardinal Newman girls basketball team spent its final practice before Saturday’s state Division 4 CIF state basketball tournament game in a borrowed gym after their school was evacuated following a bomb threat Friday.

No worries, coach Monica Mertle told her players as they lined up before drills at the center of the gym at Santa Rosa Junior College. Use it as motivation.

“I just look at it as another obstacle we have to overcome to achieve our goal,” she said.

The most immediate goal will be to defeat Notre Dame of Belmont, a scrappy, quick team that plays in the West Catholic Athletic League, one of the toughest leagues in the state.

When the Newman girls take the floor in the second round of the state tournament Saturday, it will be against a noticeably smaller Notre Dame team.

One-quarter of the Cardinals’ team is 6 feet or taller: sophomores Lauren Walker at 6-4 and Hailey Vice-Neat at 6-3 and junior Tiffany Salinas at 6-0.

Meanwhile, the Tigers’ tallest player is 5-11 freshman Olga Faasolo, while the rest of the squad averages about 5-7.

And while height isn’t everything, it’s a clear advantage, as it has been all year for the Cardinals, who finished the season 25-6 overall and swept through the NBL 14-0.

The Newman girls’ 7:30 p.m. tipoff follows the 6 p.m. Newman boys game against Half Moon Bay.

Mertle said the height advantage has been consistent all season.

“But ultimately our biggest advantage is not from one position or another, it’s our depth,” she said.

Typically, all 12 girls on the roster will play — and contribute.

“They are very unselfish,” she said. “It’s not about who does it, but do we get the job done. We have nine or 10 players who can score 20 points and can be superstars. But what’s more important is to have success as a team.”

Newman comes into the tournament the top seed, skipping the first round on a bye. Eighth-seeded Notre Dame held on to beat No. 9 Anderson 46-45 in the first round on Wednesday.

Tonight’s winner will meets the winner of Dixon-Brookside Christian on Tuesday night at a location to be determined.

Notre Dame, a 425-student private girls Catholic prep school in Belmont, between San Francisco and San Jose, finished 14-14 overall and 1-11 in its league. But don’t let the mediocre win-loss record fool you.

“That’s very deceiving,” Mertle said. “They’re actually really good; their league is just really competitive.”

The Tigers are scrappy and guard-oriented, she said. But the Cardinals are no slouches when it comes to moving the ball around quickly.

“Our post players are very athletic,” she said. “A lot of people look at us and say we’re really tall, but that said, all of our post players can handle the ball and can step out and play the perimeter.”

(See more photos of the Cardinal Newman basketball team)

Notre Dame coach Josh Davenport acknowledged his team is undersized compared to Newman.

“We have to be scrappy playing in the WCAL,” he said.

The one league win was in triple overtime.

“We are battle hardened because we play in that league,” he said. “We compete and we fight and we scrape and claw the best we can.”

Davenport said he will try to push his team’s speed advantage with half-court pressing and exploit Newman’s aggressiveness with back-door plays.

“If we are on our game, playing good defense, keeping them off the boards, we should be fine,” Davenport said. “I’m hoping we can also control the tempo.”

In addition to the bomb threat disrupting Newman’s final practice, another obstacle this week has been correcting flaws that led to the Cardinals’ 57-55 loss at the buzzer to Salesian on March 4 in an NCS semifinal game. Salesian went on to beat top-seeded St. Mary’s 56-40 to win the NCS.

“That one hurt,” Mertle said. “We had it, and it just didn’t work out our way. We’ve been trying to make some adjustments since that game and clean up somethings that didn’t go right. It was a good learning experience for us.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

  • polowear

    Did the article say 1 – 11? Are you kidding me.