You had to know it wasn’t going to happen twice.
“It” being a close North Bay League basketball game, close by the Cardinal Newman girls’ standards.
The Cardinals beat visiting Montgomery 70-24 Wednesday night in a show of might you could have set your watch by.
You see, the last time these two teams — the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the NBL — met, Montgomery pushed the Cardinals to their closest final score in a league contest in years. In many years.
That 55-49 finish Jan. 8 was the elephant in the room Wednesday night as the Cardinals — who haven’t lost a league game since January of 2014 — roared back to their old ways.
“We’ve been thinking about this game pretty much since last time we played them,” junior guard Avery Cargill said.
Cargill, who came into the game averaging 11 points per contest, had 17 points on the night, including two three-pointers to open the game. She set the tone early with hot perimeter shooting and eight points in the opening quarter.
She also led the tempo that the smaller Cardinals drove all night, rushing the Vikings’ shots, outmaneuvering for rebounds and getting out on the run.
Oh, and at one point in the third quarter, she even mopped the floor. Literally. When a sweat puddle was identified under the Cardinals’ hoop, Cargill — who seemed to have done every other job on the floor Wednesday night — grabbed a mop and sopped it up.
Cargill acknowledged that the previous matchup between these two teams was on her teammates’ collective mind. So used to their dominance have people become that winning is no longer enough — the Cardinals are expected to win big.
“Playing against everyone in Sonoma County is personal, just because they are our peers and we know them,” she said. “For them to be close with us and hear everyone say, ‘Oh, Newman is falling off the edge, they are not as good because all of their height is gone,’ that hits you in the heart. You have a chip on your shoulder the rest of the season.”
Think that first game against Montgomery didn’t burn a little? Consider this: The next time the Cardinals took the floor was against Maria Carrillo. Final score: Cardinal Newman 81, Maria Carrillo 8.
It might sound silly for a team that is beating league opponents by more than 40 points per game to have a chip on their shoulder. Maybe frightening is a better word.
Yes, the Cardinal Newman height of years past is not there, but on Wednesday they didn’t need it against a taller Montgomery squad.
The Vikings managed a meager four offensive rebounds all night. Every shot was contested — and it was usually one and done and they were sprinting back on defense.
“We are not the tallest team, but you don’t have to be tall to rebound; you just have to work hard,” Cardinals coach Monica Mertle said.
“That’s a huge focus for us, rebounding,” senior Maiya Flores said. “If we don’t meet our rebounding goal we have to run, so we get very hyped about the offensive rebounds.
“We made our goal tonight,” she added, smiling.
Flores led all scorers with 20 points, including four three-pointers. She was averaging just shy of 15 points per game.
Mertle said she expected her squad to come out a little fired up after the Vikings pushed them to the edge last time around.
“The girls have a lot of pride and they know when they don’t play well,” she said. “I didn’t have to do a lot of motivating.”
“It was talked about for a long time,” Flores said. “We were looking forward to this game since the last time we played them. We just came ready to go.”
Senior Tal Webb, who averages seven points per game, drained three three-pointers en route to an 11-point night, but did most of the dirty work that doesn’t make the highlight reels.
Webb muscled her way to key rebounds against the taller Vikings and grabbed steals that seemed to deflate the visitors.
In the third quarter, Cardinal Newman sophomore guard Anya Choice missed a three-point shot and Webb, in a sea of taller players with longer limbs, grabbed the rebound and muscled up a short putback from nearly under the bucket. There was no finesse — it was pure guts.
“Tal is really active,” Mertle said, describing her play as “smart.”
And Mertle had praise for Cargill, who drew the difficult assignment of guarding Montgomery’s leading scorer, senior Shayla Newman, for most of the night.
Newman came into the contest averaging 13 points per game along with eight rebounds, but Cargill, who had a significant height disadvantage, put the lockdown on her. Newman finished the game with two points.
“We got her scouted down to a T,” Cargill said. “We know her moves, her tendencies, what she’s going to do. So for me, tonight was all about solid defense and just limiting her touches — that way she’s not in a position to score.”
The Vikings were paced by junior Trinity Hawkins, who put up eight points — bettering her season average of six points per game.
“The first half of league, we didn’t really show who we were,” Flores said.
If that first contest against Montgomery got people whispering and wondering what this version of the Cardinal Newman Cardinals is all about, Wednesday night’s game was the Cardinals’ loud and clear answer.
You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671, Kerry.firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield.