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Regional Final

Cardinal Newman (29-5) vs. Menlo School (21-7)

Time: 2 p.m., Saturday

The night didn’t start out so hot for Maiya Flores.

The long-distance shooter for Cardinal Newman missed her first four 3-point shot attempts and didn’t score in the first 10 minutes of the Cardinals’ CIF NorCal Division 4 semifinal game against visiting Sacred Heart Prep on Tuesday night.

But then the 5-foot-6 guard found her groove.

Flores hit six 3s — several nothing-but-net — in the middle two quarters to lead top-seeded Cardinal Newman to a resounding 69-32 victory over the No. 4 Gators.

“She’s a great shooter,” said coach Monica Mertle. “When she gets hot, she’s hard to stop.”

The victory means the Cardinals advance to the regional final at 2 p.m. Saturday at American Canyon High School. They play No. 2 Menlo School, a team they beat, 62-51, on Dec. 3 in a preseason game at the Cardinal Newman Classic tournament.

Despite missing six 3-point shots in the first five minutes of the game, the Cardinals played tight defense and were able to take an 8-7 lead on a Hailey Vice-Neat hook shot, a lead they never relinquished.

Flores found her touch with a 12-foot bucket with 6:22 to play in the second quarter that gave Newman a 10-point lead. She hit two 3-pointers in the quarter as the Cardinals stretched the margin to 27-15 at the half.

Mertle said she wasn’t worried about the early misses.

“Shooters have to have short memories,” she said.

The Cardinals started the game with more intensity and focus than they did Saturday against Scotts Valley, when they had to come from 16 points behind to win.

“I told them to be ready to play,” Mertle said. “One of the things I’m the happiest about is our rebounding. Against Scotts Valley in the first half, we just got manhandled. Tonight, our goal was for them to be one-and-done and for us to create opportunities on our end.”

Flores led all scorers with 20 points, while Vice-Neat added 15, including four 3s of her own.

Guard Tal Webb led the Cardinals in the first quarter, when she scored 6 of her 11 points.

“Everything was going right for the team,” Webb said. “I was focused on my matchup, my defense. I’ve been working hard on defense and it paid off.”

Webb guarded the Gators’ senior wing Ma’ata Makoni, the team’s second-leading scorer who averages almost 12 points a game. Webb held the senior to five points. Sacred Heart’s high scorer, guard Riley Hemm, picked up three fouls in the first half and was held to five points before she fouled out in the fourth.

The early misses didn’t shake Flores’ faith in her shot.

“I just kept shooting. I know I have a good shot,” she said. “I just had to fight through it. I was confident they would fall.”

Midway through the second they started to.

Flores’ hot hand spread, and the Cardinals hit four 3-point shots in a row — three from the left corner — to pull away from the Gators.

Cardinal Newman outscored Sacred Heart 14-2 in the first 2:30 of the third quarter to put the game out of reach, 41-17.

“That pretty much iced the game,” Sacred Heart coach Melanie Murphy said. “We couldn’t match up physically. They got all the 50-50 balls. Our physicality just wasn’t there.”

Mertle also praised the play of Lauren Walker, who scored only eight points, but whose presence changed the Gators’ plan.

“Because of the way they had to defend her, it was creating open shots for her teammates,” she said. “She can create scoring opportunities even when she doesn’t get the ball.”

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

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