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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.

“There was a few times when I would get a hook shot, and then we’d go back down and I’d get another hook shot,” Walker said. “It felt almost too easy.”

Walker scored 21 points, while Vice-Neat had 15, including 13 in the second half. Cardinal Newman freshman point guard Avery Cargill kept the home team in the game with eight first-half points and finished with nine.

Newman (28-5) will host No. 4 Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton in a NorCal semifinal on Tuesday.

The first half was a stunning lesson for the Cardinals, who went 14-0 in the North Bay League this season and made it to the North Coast Section D4 final before falling to Salesian. Scotts Valley hit five of its first six shots and went on an early 9-0 run to build a 14-5 lead, maintaining that edge until the third quarter.

The Falcons (24-6) were at a significant height disadvantage, yet they managed to outrebound Newman, their guards repeatedly sneaking inside to grab the caroms. In the second quarter, after the Cardinals had trimmed their deficit to 19-16, Scotts Valley went on a 13-0 spree. The Falcons used crisp passing to set up high-percentage shots, while the Newman girls mostly drove down the side of the key and flung up off-balance tries.

Bechtle, Scotts Valley’s senior point guard, was the star of the show. She hit six 3-pointers in the game, some of them contested. At one point in the first half, she launched a shot from five feet beyond the arc. Steph Curry would have been proud. It rattled in and out. Bechtle can also pass and drive the lane. She led all scorers with 26 points.

“She’s a fantastic player,” Mertle said. “She had a great game. She showed a lot of heart. And definitely she was a senior that did not want her career to end. … The way that she played, and that sense of urgency and how hard she played, that’s senior leadership.”

The Cardinals don’t have that. But they got big-time performances from a couple of juniors Saturday, and they live to play again.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.