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SANTA CLARA — The Cardinal Newman girls came to the campus of Santa Clara University aiming for a spot in the CIF state championship game. But a trap awaited them. Actually, a lot of traps.

Archbishop Mitty’s relentless trapping defense caught up to the Cardinals in the second quarter of Saturday night’s NorCal Open Division final, and the underdogs from Santa Rosa never recovered. The top-seeded Monarchs finished that period with a 21-4 run and went on to win 78-54, wrapping up their 12th NorCal championship and their fifth in the past seven years — though their first in the Open Division.

Mitty will play Clovis West for the state title next Saturday in Sacramento.

And so ended the second consecutive groundbreaking season for Cardinal Newman. Last year the Newman girls won the state title in Division 4. This year they breezed to the North Coast Section Division 4 banner, moved into the treacherous Open for the NorCals and, despite playing as the No. 7 seed in the North, proved themselves to be one of the four best teams in the state.

The Cardinals finished 30-4.

“I’m incredibly proud of them,” Cardinals coach Monica Mertle said after the loss. “I think what they’ve accomplished this year surpassed last year. We won Division 4 state championship last year, but we won a championship in our division. For them to then step up, not be satisfied with what we did last year but instead to set the bar even higher and to achieve on this level is tremendous.”

The game was nip and tuck a few minutes into the second quarter when Maiya Flores’ floater in the lane cut Cardinal Newman’s deficit to 20-16. Then came the onslaught.

Archbishop Mitty (28-2) likes to press in the full court. But where the Monarchs really make life miserable for opponents is in the half court, where their harrying double-team traps get ball handlers in trouble and force ill-advised passes.

Newman buckled under this pressure in the second quarter. By halftime the Cardinals had an uncharacteristic 10 turnovers, and they had led to 13 points.

After it was 20-16, Mitty got away for a 13-2 run. And when Cardinal Newman center Lauren Walker cut it off with a pair of free throws, the Monarchs started right in again and finished the half with an 8-0 spurt for a commanding 41-20 lead.

“Cardinal Newman, they were really aggressive on the boards and they were driving hard, shooting well,” Monarchs senior guard Madeline Holland said of the turning point. “As a team, we riled each other up.”

When Mitty got riled, there was no coming back for Newman. The Monarchs led 61-31 after three quarters, and went up by as many as 34 points in the fourth. The Cardinals’ 18-game winning streak was over.

Saturday’s loss was Cardinal Newman’s most lopsided since another 24-point setback at Montgomery on Jan. 14, 2013.

While the Cardinals were having trouble holding onto the ball, the Monarchs were shooting the bottom out of the basket. The team from San Jose hit 53.1 percent overall for the game (34 of 64) and 43.5 percent on 3-point attempts (10 of 23).

The Mitty girls have some height and quickness, but it doesn’t begin to explain their effectiveness. They play with a group savvy and efficiency that is frightening.

That’s especially true of their two best players, Holland and sophomore wing player Haley Jones. Holland, who can score inside and out, finished with a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds.

Jones, long-limbed and quick thinking, had 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Senior guard Daniella Gugliemo hit four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points, while junior post player Nicole Blakes had 10 points and five rebounds.

The Monarchs’ main advantage is their depth, though. Coach Sue Phillips plays nine girls and switches them liberally. At times she sent four new girls onto the court at once.

“In terms of their depth, they’re similar to a college team,” Mertle said of Mitty.

The Cardinals couldn’t keep up with that under normal circumstances.

They certainly couldn’t Saturday, when Walker picked up her second foul halfway through the first quarter and star forward Hailey Vice-Neat was hit with two in quick succession in the second.

Those waves of Monarchs contributed to Newman’s sloppiness. Newman wound up with only five assists compared to 20 turnovers.

Walker began to assert herself inside early in the fourth quarter and wound up with 19 points, including 9-of-11 free-throw shooting. The senior also had nine rebounds. Flores struggled early but hit a couple shots late and finished with 12 points.

It was a forgettable night for several Cardinals. Sophomore point guard Avery Cargill was as aggressive as ever, but hit only 2 of 7 shots and finished with six points, two assists and five turnovers.

Tough junior guard Tal Webb turned over the ball seven times. And Vice-Neat, the reigning All-Empire Player of the Year known as “the Chief,” went 2 of 8 from the field to go with only two rebounds and no assists.

As the seconds wound down, Vice-Neat left the court and engaged Mertle in a long, emotional embrace.

“Chief, I wish I could keep her forever,” Mertle said afterward. “I’m gonna be so sad to see her go, but so excited for what her future has in store for her. I can’t wait to go watch her play college basketball.”

Vice-Neat is headed to Boise State to play more hoops. Walker will play at the University of Portland.

Their final high school game was a loss. Their legacy, along with that of fellow seniors Taylor Hextrum and Britta Irvine, is unassailable.

“Our seniors have done so much for our program,” Mertle said. “When they were freshmen they won our first league championship. Each year we progressed, to the point in their senior year where we’re playing in the Open Division NorCal championship game. To make that amount of progress in four years is tremendous, and I’m just really, really proud of all of them.”

You can reach staff writer Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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