CIF boys basketball playoffs: Cardinal Newman falls to St. Mary’s, 61-43

Saint Mary's Aren Ulmer, left, and Nyjahl Thompson, right, double-team Cardinal Newman's Gunnar Walker during the game held at Cardinal Newman High School, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. (Crista Jeremiason/The Press Democrat)

Saint Mary’s Aren Ulmer, left, and Nyjahl Thompson, right, double-team Cardinal Newman’s Gunnar Walker during the game held at Cardinal Newman High School, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. (Crista Jeremiason/The Press Democrat)



There are sports aphorisms that seem to be true at every level, and even across different games, and one of them is this: It’s tough to beat a good team three times in a row.

Cardinal Newman boys basketball coach Tom Bonfigli knew it full well before his team’s CIF NorCal Division 4 semifinal playoff game against Saint Mary’s of Albany. And his concerns were borne out as the Cardinals fell to the visiting Panthers 61-43 at Fitzgerald Gym on Tuesday night.

The Newman boys were the Redwood Empire’s last remaining hope for a NorCal title.

The Cardinals had knocked off Saint Mary’s twice this season, a one-point win in the Rose City Tournament back in mid-December and a 17-point romp in the semifinals of the North Coast Section playoffs.

The Panthers turned the tables Tuesday, using their superior quickness to harry Cardinal Newman and avoiding the mistakes that had doomed them in those earlier meetings.

“The fact we beat ’em twice was nothing in the minds of our players,” Bonfigli said afterward. “And this game wasn’t an 18-point game. We got to six or eight a couple times, but we didn’t use good judgment. And they did a good job of slowing things down when they had to.”

The Cardinals never led in this game, and didn’t manage to tie the score again after it was 11-11 in the first quarter. But they cut their deficit to 51-43 on a 3-point shot by Connor Rubattino from behind a screen, just before Bonfigli called time out with 2:02 remaining.

Newman made several stirring comebacks this season, and pulled out a tense one-point win over Half Moon Bay in the preceding round. The home crowd, wearing St. Patrick’s Day green in combination with Cardinal red, sensed another big finish.

But Cardinal Newman (30-4) would not score again. The Panthers (20-11) ended with a 10-0 flourish, getting easy buckets after breaking the Cardinals’ press and picking up a couple of gift free throws after senior Justin Botteri was hit with a technical for arguing a foul call.

(See more photos from the game)

“We play as a team. I don’t think anybody had a great game tonight,” Bonfigli said. “We weren’t nervous, we weren’t intimidated. We just didn’t play well.”

Saint Mary’s coach Craig Battle said the difference this time was better execution of his team’s full-court press.
“We didn’t give ’em any easy baskets this time,” Battle said. “Everybody knows we press. But he’s a smart coach, and he beat the pressure and they got a lot of layups.”

It wasn’t that the Panthers called off the press this time. They just organized it a bit differently, and ran it more smoothly.

The quick Saint Mary’s kids were quick of hand and foot. They constantly got their hands on the basketball, tipping Newman passes. And when they were able to get a turnover, their transition game was hard to stop.

Early, it seemed as though rebounding would be the equalizer for Cardinal Newman. That advantage seemed to disappear as the game wore on.

“They killed us on the boards last time,” Battle said. “I haven’t seen the numbers, but our perimeter players got a lot of rebounds tonight. We wanted to hold them to one shot.”

The turning point for the Panthers was an 8-0 run late in the third quarter that gave them a 40-27 lead. The Cardinals generated a little buzz with a 5-0 push in the fourth quarter that included a three-point play by Rubattino. But Saint

Mary’s big man Demond Washington responded with a three-point play of his own after he was fouled by Newman center Gunnar Walker.

Washington led all scorers with 17 points, including nine in the final period. Kevin Warren scored 14 for the Panthers. Botteri paced Cardinal Newman with 15 points, followed by Rubattino with 13.

Rubattino will be back next year, but the Cardinals’ other four starters graduate in June. They’ll have quite a senior season to remember.

“I think this team really played well together,” Bonfigli said. “They got the maximum out of their potential. They won a lot of big games, came back several times. And 30 games is a phenomenal achievement.”

  • Wayne Woodrow Hayes

    Another great season for Newman.