CIF girls basketball playoffs: Cardinal Newman upset by Brookside Christian 54-50

Cardinal Newman's Lauren Walker goes up for a shot between Brookside Christian's Ra'kyra Gabriel, left, and Ariana Vaughn, right, during the game held at Cardinal Newman High School, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. (Crista Jeremiason/The Press Democrat)

Cardinal Newman’s Lauren Walker goes up for a shot between Brookside Christian’s Ra’kyra Gabriel, left, and Ariana Vaughn, right, during the game held at Cardinal Newman High School, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. (Crista Jeremiason/The Press Democrat)

By LORI A. CARTER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Fouls and free throws told the story of the Cardinal Newman girls’ 54-50 loss to Brookside Christian Tuesday night in the CIF NorCal basketball semifinals.

Newman was called for 22 fouls; Brookside 11.

Brookside attempted 27 free throws, making 17 of them.

Newman made 2 of 5 free throws — in the entire game.

The imbalance had Newman coach Monica Mertle quizzing the official scorer multiple times late in the game, wondering out loud if it could be right.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Knights had taken 18 free-throw attempts to Newman’s 3. And it wasn’t a particularly chippy game.

Afterward, Mertle spoke carefully about the difference.

“I’ve never seen a basketball game with that large of a discrepancy,” was as much as she’d say.

“But we can’t control that,” she added.

Maybe it was an omen that one of the three referees took the floor just before tipoff without his whistle. He had to hurry over to his jacket in the bleachers to begin the game.Newman, the top-seeded team in NorCal Division 4, finishes 26-7 overall.

No. 4 Brookside, a 100-student school from Stockton, is 26-3 and advances to play Piedmont Saturday night in the regional final. The winner there plays the Southern California winner for the state title.

Brookside’s Aarion McDonald had a game-high 24 points, while her teammate Ra’kyra Gabriel added 12. The Knights relied on only five players, using a sixth sparingly.

Newman freshman guard Maiya Flores scored 20 points, including six 3-pointers.

Senior guard Kylie Kiech and sophomore forward Hailey Vice-Neat each added 10. Post players Tiffany Salinas and Lauren Walker both ran into foul trouble.

(See more photos from the game)

The game was tight throughout, with Newman holding a slim 16-14 lead after the first quarter, which the Cardinals were able to extend to 24-19 with 2:51 left in the first half.

But two baskets by the Knights, a three-foot bank shot from McDonald and a 3-pointer from Gabriel, tied it at 24 with 1:34 left in the half.

Brookside came out strong in the third quarter, outscoring Newman 9-5 during a three-minute stretch, taking a 34-30 lead.

After a frustrating possession in which Newman missed four shots, including two 3-pointers, Brookside’s Ariana Vaughn got a rebound, dribbled the length of the floor and put in an easy layup for a 36-30 advantage, the largest of either team.

Newman fought back to trail by one, 36-35, after three quarters.

Kiech sank a 3-pointer from the top, followed by another three by Flores and a putback by Vice-Neat to go up 43-38.

After Newman was called for another foul, Mertle asked the scorekeeper for the first time about the free-throw numbers. Almost halfway through the fourth quarter, Newman had not yet taken a free throw in the second half.

A few minutes later, she asked for the cumulative total: Brookside had taken 18, Newman 3.

“We missed a lot of free throws in the first half,” Brookside coach Pico Wilburn said. “I think that made them think they could be more aggressive.”

Brookside made 5 of 11 foul shots in the first half, and 12 of 16 in the second.

With 1:43 left, Brookside’s McDonald was fouled in a scrum under Newman’s goal after a long miss by Vice-Neat, setting her up at the foul line with the game tied at 47.

She made the first of two, putting the Knights up, 48-47, the final lead change of the night.
With 30 seconds left, the speedy McDonald added to the lead with a steal of a long pass from Vice-Neat to Kiech, who fouled her.

McDonald sank both free throws, then another two after being fouled by freshman Jasmine Henderson on the inbound pass, putting Brookside up 52-47.

Wilburn said the win was a moral victory for his girls, who he said hadn’t garnered much respect this season after turmoil last year. Though he has coached for more than 20 years — including coaching against Mertle when she was in the sixth grade playing youth basketball — Wilburn only took over at Brookside in September after the previous coach was let go.

“This feels so good,” he said. “It’s a morale lift.”

Three of Brookside’s players are headed to Division I colleges, including Gabriel to Florida-Atlantic and Vaughn to University of the Pacific. McDonald, a junior, has verbally committed to the University of Washington, Wilburn said.

He had high praise for Mertle and the four-year-old Newman girls program: “They are going to come right back.”

Mertle praised her seniors, who came in as freshmen in the first female class at Newman, after its sister school Ursuline High closed.

“They formed the foundation of our program,” she said. “It’s been a struggle. We’ve scraped and clawed and every year we’ve gotten better. They’ve been the pillars of that. I’m really proud of them.”

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