s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 5 of 15 free articles this month.
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 10 of 15 free articles this month.
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Support local journalism and get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app, all starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

AMERICAN CANYON — In 2011-12, Monica Mertle’s first year as coach of the Cardinal Newman girls’ basketball team — in fact, the first year of girls’ athletics at the formerly all-male school — the Cardinals finished 13-15. Mertle has constructed a strong program since then, and by the start of this season she felt it was ready to do something great.

“Every workout, every tough practice, every lift, every time we get in the weight room, our goal has been to win a state championship,” Mertle said Saturday. “And I think it’s great to see that goal realized. It’s great for the girls to know that when they work hard it does pay off, because they’ve been fully invested in what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Mertle’s words didn’t come out quite right. Her team hasn’t yet realized its goal of winning a state championship. But thanks to Cardinal Newman’s methodical 51-32 dismantling of Menlo School at American Canyon High in the CIF NorCal Division 4 title game, they will have an opportunity to do just that.

Newman is a NorCal champion, and will play Antelope Valley for the state title in Sacramento next Saturday. The Cardinals will almost certainly be considered underdogs; the SoCal representative has won each of the past seven D4 championship games.

The top-seeded Cardinals never trailed Saturday. After the 5:30 mark of the third quarter their lead was never fewer than double digits. And when the No. 2 Knights pulled their remaining starters with 1:13 left in the game, it sank in that Cardinal Newman was headed to the big game.

“It was definitely a moment that I couldn’t believe,” Newman junior center Lauren Walker said. “I was kind of like, is this really happening? One of the things I was talking about with my teammates, my brother did this a few years ago, and I’m so excited that I have a possibility to have my name next to his on the gym wall, immortalized.”

Lauren’s brother Gunnar was part of the Cardinal Newman team that played for the D4 title in 2013, losing a close game to Pacific Hills of West Hollywood. That was the most recent Redwood Empire team to play for a basketball state title. No local team has won it all since the Rincon Valley Christian girls captured the D5 crown in 1997.

The Newman girls will get a chance to make their mark, thanks to the swarming defense they played against the Knights in the NorCal final. The Cardinals held Menlo to two points in the first quarter, forced 20 turnovers over the course of the game and limited the Atherton school to 28.9 percent on field-goal attempts.

“They play good, tenacious defense. Obviously, their size helps,” Menlo coach John Paye said. “… Offensively, it was tough. You would kind of get around the first player and then they had 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 girls still standing in the way. It would have helped if we had made some shots a little earlier.”

Walker is 6-5 and Hailey Vice-Neat, Cardinal Newman’s junior forward, is 6-3. Their presence helped account for the Cardinals’ 42-29 edge in rebounding.

P aye, who followed John Elway as quarterback at Stanford, took the Knights to three consecutive state D5 titles as a young coach from 1989-1991. One of his top players then was his younger sister Kate. His current team made the NorCal final when Paye’s daughter Hannah hit a late 3-pointer against Saint Mary’s (Albany).

Menlo never had a chance for such heroics against the Cardinals. They weren’t tall enough or quick enough. Newman moved to a 10-2 lead after the first quarter and pushed it to 26-8 late in the second.

And yet it took a while for the Cardinals to put the game away, thanks to a couple factors. First, they didn’t shoot all that well themselves, connecting on 35.3 percent of their shots. That was after missing their first six from the field in a game that was scoreless for nearly 4½ minutes of game time.

Mertle never gave up on her shooters, though, and they came to the rescue when needed most. Menlo scored the first four points of the second quarter to briefly change the outlook of the game, but Vice-Neat nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to make the score 13-6 and ignite a run that pushed the Cardinal Newman’s lead to 18 points.

The Knights regrouped, though, scoring the final five points of the first half and the first six of the second, trimming Newman’s edge to 26-19. That’s when sophomore guard Tal Webb nailed an open 3-pointer to stem the tide. By the start of the fourth quarter, Cardinal Newman had boosted its lead to 40-23.

“We have a lot of shooters, and shooters have to have short memories,” Mertle said. “There has to be balance, and I think that we achieved good balance today between our inside game and our outside game. … And at the end of the day, big players hit big shots. They might not all go in, but the big ones go in.”

The other thing that kept the game close was Menlo’s full-court press. Asked in a post-game press conference whether his team usually pressures so much, Paye didn’t get a chance to answer. Several of his players chimed in to say, “Every game.”

Newman turned over the ball 16 times, most of them in the backcourt as the Knights pressed and trapped. Mertle said she would have liked to see her girls be more assertive in pushing the ball upcourt.

The versatile Vice-Neat led all scorers with 14 points, adding nine rebounds and four assists. Walker had 13 points and 13 rebounds, though she was frequently bothered by two or three defenders when she caught the ball in the paint. Freshman point guard Avery Cargill scored 10 points, and sophomore shooting guard Maiya Flores had eight.

Sophomore Mallory North came off the bench to lead Menlo with 10 points. Junior Sam Erisman is the Knights’ leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, but she got few open looks against Cardinal Newman, with Cargill doing most of the guarding. Erisman finished with nine points on 4-of-14 shooting.

Afterward, the Cardinals posed for pictures and were awarded a big plaque for their achievement. Sunday promised to be a pretty good day for this young, talented team.

“You can celebrate until Monday,” Mertle told her players. “Then we practice.”

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