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From nearly the moment the Cardinal Newman Cardinals won the Division 4 CIF girls basketball championship last spring, talk of taking their game to the open division in the state tournament has been a regular refrain.

When the Cardinals outdid their 2015-16 run and won the Division 4 North Coast Section title last Saturday, all signs pointed to their being pulled up — the best teams in Northern California, regardless of size, battling it out in the NorCals to face the best team to emerge from the scrum in Southern California. On Sunday the seeding committee made it so.

On Friday they travel to take on Carondelet High of Concord, perennial winner of the Bay Valley League and a team that was required to compete in Division 1 of the NCS tournament based on its success. The Cougars are 28-4 on the season.

The move made committee members look prescient: Carondelet plowed through its Division 1 opponents by an average of 40 points en route to the section title.

Newman, too, was tested little on its journey to the school’s first girls basketball section title. The Cardinals’ margin of victory in Division 4 was 37 points. They pushed their overall record to 28-4.

“Both teams, honestly, haven’t been tested like they will be in this game,” said Santa Rosa High coach Luis Patrick, a guy that faced Cardinal Newman three times this season and drew Carondelet as the Panthers’ first round opponent in NCS. The Panthers were a collective 0-4 against the two powerhouse programs.

A look at the league records of both squads bears out Patrick’s assessment.

Cardinal Newman’s run of 49 consecutive wins stretching back to January of 2014 in the North Bay League is beyond impressive. Yet Carondelet does that one, two, three-plus times better. The Cougars have not dropped a Bay Valley League game since Jan. 8, 2013. Going back to the 2004-05 season, the Cougars are 179-5.

The teams have four common opponents this season and produced similar results in those contests.

Both teams beat Oak Ridge High of El Dorado Hills — Carondelet won 63-41 and Cardinal Newman won 60-29. Carondelet downed St. Mary’s of Stockton 71-69, a team that Newman lost to 74-55 on Dec. 3 but turned around and beat 53-46 on Jan. 21. Carondelet beat Salesian 62-54, while Newman fell to the Lions 48-40.

Santa Rosa faced Cardinal Newman three times this season, falling 75-23, 74-22 and 58-27. When the Panthers faced Carondelet in the first round of the North Coast Section Division 1 tournament Feb. 21, they lost 88-39.

Carondelet has size, just as Cardinal Newman does. Cougars senior Michaela VanderKlugt is listed as six feet tall and sophomore Ali Bamberger is 6-foot-3. Junior Maaeva Dwiggins is 5-foot-10, sophomore guard Erica Miller is 5-foot-9 and sophomore point guard Emily Howie is 5-foot-4.

The tandem of VanderKlugt and Bamberger will give Newman’s own seniors, 6-foot-3 Hailey Vice-Neat and 6-foot-5 Lauren Walker, a battle of size that they did not see in the NCS finals.

And, like Cardinal Newman, the Cougars have a roster of athletes.

“Both teams have an inside-out game,” Patrick said. “If you double down low, they kick it back out to great shooters.”

Howie presents a challenge at point because of her phenomenal quickness, Patrick said. In Santa Rosa’s game against Carondelet, the Panthers’ help defense could not catch up with Howie’s first step.

“It’s one dribble and layup,” he said. “She’s explosive. By the time the ball hit the floor and we slid, she was already at the rim.”

“Carondelet has athletes and they like to isolate them,” he said.

But Patrick, who has probably seen enough of Cardinal Newman’s sharpshooting crew to last a lifetime, gives Newman the edge on outside shooting prowess.

“I think both teams are like ‘Give me the ball, I’ll shoot it,’” he said. “I would take Cardinal Newman’s shooting over Carondelet.”

Patrick knows how hot Newman can get behind junior guard Maiya Flores, who took less than three seasons to surpass the 1,000 career points mark.

“They feed off the three,” he said.

And they have multiple weapons from the outside, including Vice-Neat.

“I feel like the girls know when to step up when someone is struggling,” he said.

Case in point — senior forward Taylor Hextrum came off the bench in the NCS final to breath fire into the Cardinals. She grabbed rebounds, hustled down loose balls and dropped in four points.

But it’s Flores who may prove key Friday night.

She was relatively quiet in the NCS final, with two threes for six points. But she didn’t need to be loud against St. Joseph Notre Dame. On Friday, she’ll need to be loud.

With Vice-Neat and Walker facing size and strength down low, Flores will have to get hot from the outside to spread out the defense and give them some relief.

Junior Tal Webb had just two points against St. Joe’s Saturday. She, too, has the ability to get hot and will likely need to if the Cardinals are to come away with a win.

Another key will likely be the sure-handedness of sophomore point guard Avery Cargill.

Carondelet likes to wear out opponents with a full-court press, according to Patrick. Cargill, a confident and savvy floor leader, will have to drive the Cardinals through that pressure. It can only help that Vice-Neat has the skills and the size to help move the ball up the court and over the top of pressure if need be.

And for true hoops junkies, the game will offer a look into mid-game adjustments and coaching maneuvering, Patrick said. And the athletes on both sides will likely make it a barnburner.

“It’s going to be a great game,” he said.

This is exactly what Cardinal Newman asked for. Friday will prove whether the Cardinals are ready for what the open division has to offer.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud“Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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