Cardinal Newman basketball teams get double dose of opportunity

Cardinal Newman's leading scorer, Connor Rubattino. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Cardinal Newman’s leading scorer, Connor Rubattino. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When the CIF NorCal basketball semifinals tip off tonight, the Cardinal Newman boys team will be facing a familiar foe while the Lady Cardinals will be going against an opponent they’ve seen but not played.

Both games will be decided at John Fitzgerald Gym on the Newman campus with the girls starting at 6 p.m. followed by the boys at approximately 7:30 p.m.

While the top-seeded Lady Cardinals will be meeting No. 4 Brookside Christian of Stockton for the first time, the boys will be playing Saint Mary’s of Albany for the third time this season.

The hometown boys will be after a clean sweep. The schools met for the first time Dec. 13 in the finals of the Rose City Tournament with Newman escaping, 42-41. The next meeting was March 4 in a North Coast Section semifinal and behind 26 points from Connor Rubattino, the Cardinals rolled, 73-56.

Although the girls teams haven’t played one another, there are two mutual opponents.

Both defeated Justin-Siena easily while Brookside handled Salesian, 74-63, and the Cardinals lost to the Richmond school, 57-55.

“We know quite a bit about Brookside,” Newman coach Monica Mertle said. “They were in our tournament in December, although we didn’t play against each other.”

The Knights have three girls who are going to play Division I ball at the college level, including guard Arrion McDonald. She’s verbally committed to University of Washington.

“I watched Brookside play during our tournament and know they’ll press and push the ball against us,” Mertle said. “They’re quick and athletic.

“Knowing their personnel is key for us. We’ll be prepared.”

It’s doubtful Brookside has as much depth as the Cardinals. Mertle can go deep into her bench without diminishing the level of talent.

Looking at the boys game, St. Mary’s might be the surprise team of the entire tournament. The No. 11 seed has gotten to the semifinals by knocking off No. 6 Santa Cruz (66-58) and No. 3 Sacred Heart (64-62). Meanwhile, No. 2 Newman had an opening round bye and then held on against No. 7 Half Moon Bay, 48-47.

St. Mary’s record is 19-11 compared the Cardinals’ 30-3 mark.

“Don’t be fooled by their record,” coach Bonfigli said. “They played in the Tri-County Rock League which is super-tough from top to bottom.”

In both games the schools played, St. Mary’s held a lead in the second half. The last time, Newman went on a 20-2 run to erase the advantage and open a cushion.

“I think the second win over St. Mary’s was the best game we’ve played all season,” Bonfigli said.

“We know what St. Mary’s is going to do on defense. They’re going to press and double team the ball. We have to be able to find the open man.

“Also, we need to start off better than we have in some previous games. We haven’t been coming out strong.”

The Knights will have a height advantage in the presence of 6-foot-11 Kevin Warren. He averages 19 points and is a threat from the 3-point line as well as in close.

Newman’s tallest player is 6-foot-8 Gunnar Walker.

“It’s going to be a great night for our school,” girls coach Mertle said. “To have both the girls and boys teams get this far in the state tournament is special.”