Benefield: Montgomery boys win early NBL basketball showdown

I don't know what the price of admission for the Montgomery versus Cardinal Newman boys basketball game was Tuesday night, but it wasn't high enough.

Montgomery raced to a double-digit lead against their crosstown rivals before cracking under Newman's relentless full-court pressure and letting the Cardinals back in the game. Only a crucial three and a couple of big-time rebounds sealed the win and earned the Vikings a 4-0 record in the North Bay League heading into a critical stretch of games.

“This was a huge win,” senior Evan Poulsen said. “But once again it's just another win. We need to get a total of 14 to reach our goal.”

He ended the night with 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Want consistent? He scored six points each in the first, second and fourth quarters.

“Evan likes the moment,” Vikings coach Zac Tiedeman said. “He's not afraid of the big game.”

And a big game it was. Heading into the contest, four North Bay League teams were 3-0, but no contest was more eagerly anticipated than the Cardinals visiting the Vikings. It's a rivalry that fills gyms and inspires chants. Tuesday night did not disappoint.

It was the Vikings who looked inspired early. They started the game shooting lights-out.

Of the 22 points they scored in the first quarter, six were from behind the arc.

“We have a lot of guys who can shoot it,” Poulsen said. “The first half we were really hot.”

Poulsen was ably backed in the long-bomb department by junior Harvey Rouleau, who had 18 points - all from beyond the arc. And it was Rouleau who nailed a three after Poulsen gave up a crucial late-game turnover at the hands of the Newman press to secure the win.

“Harv's last shot? That was big. I had the turnover right before, so I gave them a chance to get back into it and Harv had my back with that clutch three,” Poulson said.

I asked Rouleau if the Vikings always shoot like that.

“We try,” he said. “We can get hot.”

But despite the epic shooting, the Cardinals refused to go away. Did anyone think they would?

They were down 22-15 after one quarter, down 36-30 at the half and down 50-40 with just eight minutes to play - and still this game was close.

“In the second half, they started getting hands up on our shooters and they made it tough, came back into it,” Poulsen said.

Despite giving up what Cardinal Newman coach Tom Bonfigli estimates is a record first-half point total for one of his teams, the visitors put on a full-court press that paid dividends late in the game. The Cardinals got turnovers and they converted them into points at the other end.

A three-pointer from Newman junior Nathan Capurro made it 50-47 with 3:43 to play - a moment that brought the visitors' bench to the their feet and seemed to take the air out of the Vikings' gym momentarily.

But again it was Poulsen who had the answer - and it was straight out of Stephen Curry's playbook. With 2:37 to play, Poulsen was forever and a day away from the basket. He eyed the hoop and thought better of it. Then he eyed it again and launched: 55-47.

“As long as I feel on rhythm, if they don't contest, I'll just shoot it,” he said.

And therein was the problem all night for Bonfigli's Newman squad. Sure, the Vikings shot the lights out, but Bonfigli said his guys let them.

“We did not come out and play very hard,” he said. “You play Montgomery, you have to get out on their shooters. We didn't do that. We should not give up 59 points against anyone.”

And Newman did not get point production from their usual suspects. Senior Brad Morato came into the game averaging 17 points a contest but ended the game with nine, albeit five at crucial moments in the fourth quarter as his team was rallying back.

“Brad had some great looks in the second half; he just didn't make them,” Bonfigli said.

A spark for Newman came from the hand of junior Mason Friesch who led the team with 15 points, including three from beyond the arc.

But it wasn't enough. Newman's defense ran out of time. The game ended with a score of 59-53, with Montgomery on top.

There will be no rest for either team, as they both head into crucial contests on Thursday. Newman will take on Maria Carrillo and get right back to it against a solid Windsor team on Saturday. Montgomery faces the Jaguars on Thursday.

“It's a long year,” Tiedeman said. “It's a big win, but it's only four games in.”

But Poulsen said it's a signal of what the Vikings are capable of.

“When we are shooting like that, I don't think many teams around us can beat us,” Poulsen said.

And despite the mile-wide grin on his face after the win, he insisted it's still just one game.

“The goal is 14-0,” he said.

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

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