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Cardinal Newman’s twin towers Lauren Walker and Hailey Vice-Neat combined for 36 points Wednesday to beat St. Mary’s 59-42 and catapult the Cardinals into the North Coast Section Division 4 championship game against powerhouse Salesian.

Vice-Neat scored 19 points – 14 in the second half – and sank five 3-point baskets to lead all scorers. Walker added 17 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.

Second-seeded Newman, 27-4 overall and the 14-0 North Bay League champs, held the smaller No. 3 St. Mary’s of Albany in check in the paint all night long.

Walker, at 6-5, and Vice-Neat, 6-3, roamed freely underneath, grabbing several key offensive rebounds and holding the Panthers’ post player, Carolyn Gill, to 10 points. Guard Kennedi Villa scored a team-high 14 for St. Mary’s.

“I am very proud of the way Chief and Lauren played tonight,” Newman coach Monica Mertle said. “I thought they owned the paint and made big plays. They displayed tremendous leadership.”

The victory advances the Cardinals to the NCS final Saturday against Salesian College Preparatory of Richmond. The game will be played at Albany High School.

Newman lost, 57-55, to Salesian last March in the North Coast semis.

Cardinal Newman’s girls program has grown tremendously since the school welcomed Ursuline athletes five years ago, Mertle said.

“This is definitely the biggest win in program history,” she said. “We’ve been working hard for this. The girls have earned it.”

The teams played evenly through the first quarter, missing opportunities and looking sloppy at times.

Both teams appeared somewhat tentative and St. Mary’s was unsettled at times. The Panthers’ head coach, Sam Sims, missed the game because of a work emergency, and two assistants took over at the last minute.

Newman took control in the second quarter, going on a 12-2 run in the first five minutes and taking a five-point lead at the half, 21-16.

Both teams picked up the pace to start the third quarter, and Newman exploited the perimeter as Vice-Neat and Avery Cargill hit two 3-pointers apiece.

“We were hesitant in the first half,” Mertle said. “We needed to attack them more aggressively on offense. Once we attacked, we got back in our comfort zone and things opened up for us.”

St. Mary’s was able to close the gap to three points, 23-20, early in the third, but Cargill hit two 3-pointers from the left side and Vice-Neat added another as Newman extended its lead.

Vice-Neat said she got into a smooth rhythm at that point.

“Once I hit a couple, my teammates were looking for me and that created some opportunities,” she said.

Newman led 37-29 after three quarters.

Walker was able to use her height advantage over the 5-10 Gill and 5-11 Jasmine Smith in the final quarter. She laid in three short baskets from passes lobbed over her defender’s reach.

“She was definitely getting under me,” Walker said, “but I felt like I got her a few times. The height difference helped.”

St. Mary’s assistant coach Danielle Mauldin credited both Vice-Neat and Walker.

“We knew Cardinal Newman was a good team and what they would come with,” she said. “Carolyn had a good game and Jas did the best she could to keep (Walker) out. …We hung in there a long time.”

Cargill added nine points for the Cardinals, as did Tal Webb.

Top-seeded Salesian, 25-5 overall, knocked off Arcata Wednesday night 64-47 in the other semifinal.

Salesian is ranked 14th in the state. Newman is 27th.

By virtue of reaching the semifinals, the Cardinals have already qualified for the CIF NorCal playoffs.

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

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