The Cardinal Newman girls beat Scotts Valley 61-45 on Saturday night, which is more or less what you would expect from a No. 1 seed playing a No. 8 seed in a CIF NorCal Division 4 quarterfinal game. But the route the Cardinals took to get there was wild.
Newman fell behind by as many as 16 points in the second quarter and trailed 34-23 at halftime before clamping down on Scotts Valley in the second half. The visiting Falcons scored just three points in the third quarter and 11 total in the second half as the Cardinals finally exerted their will inside.
“There was a lot of concern. We’re not really used to being down, especially by that much, especially that quickly in the game,” junior forward Hailey Vice-Neat said afterward. “Going into halftime, Coach pumped us up a lot. So we were juiced going into the second half.”
Cardinal Newman coach Monica Mertle admitted to lighting into her players a bit at the intermission. Her primary message: Play like seniors. Which is kind of hard to do when a team doesn’t actually have any seniors.
The Cardinals came into Saturday’s game with more height, a better seed and the home-field advantage. But it was Scotts Valley that had the experience. The Falcons have six seniors on the roster; three of them are starters. Newman has zero seniors, which might explain why Scotts Valley looked tougher, more focused and more determined in the first half.
“They were playing harder in the first half than we were. There’s just no other way to say it,” Mertle said. “… I knew that we had the potential to win the entire time. We just needed to kind of flip the switch and play a lot tougher than what we were playing.”
About two minutes after halftime, Nikiya Bechtle, Scotts Valley’s brilliant point guard, ran out to the 3-point line, turned around and drilled a trey to push her team’s lead to 37-25. But Vice-Neat immediately answered with a 3-pointer at the other end, and though it wasn’t entirely clear at the time, Cardinal Newman had flipped the switch.
The Cardinals scored the final 14 points of the quarter. Vice-Neat scored half of those, and assisted on another basket. At one point early in the fourth quarter, Scotts Valley’s Sequoia Andrade found herself guarding Vice-Neat near the free-throw line. Andrade is 5-foot-3; Vice-Neat is a foot taller. “I can’t guard her!” Andrade shouted to her teammates, or to her bench.
To be fair, few girls can guard Vice-Neat. She has a center’s body and the quickness and ball skills of a much smaller player.
“We needed the bigs to be involved, and we needed our bigs to play big,” Mertle said.
And that included junior center Lauren Walker. The tallest player in the game at 6-5, Walker was strangely quiet in the first half, scoring just two points.
“I think it just wasn’t clicking for me,” Walker said. “I was kind of not playing tough. I wasn’t ready to start the game. But once I got my brain right, it kind of clicked.”
Did it ever. Walker scored 15 points in the fourth quarter — matching the total of every other player in the game, on both teams. During one stretch she scored eight straight points, all of them inside. Scotts Valley was in foul trouble at that point, and the Falcons ran out of viable options to guard Walker. They wound up putting a freshman on her, and that didn’t work out so well.