Benefield: Much at stake when Cardinal Newman, Montgomery boys meet

A number of different plotlines are in play for Wednesday's North Bay League-Oak Division boys basketball matchup between host Cardinal Newman and visiting Montgomery.

First, there is the fact that both teams are 4-0 in the NBL-Oak. Cardinal Newman is 14-5 overall and has knocked off Analy, Santa Rosa, Piner and Windsor to reach this, the halfway point in the league season.

Montgomery is 13-6 and also 4-0 in league, having dispatched the same four teams.

The winner of this game puts themselves in the driver's seat for the second lap of the league season. The winner is the lead dog - the rest will be simply chasing.

Second, there is the revenge factor.

Cardinal Newman beat Montgomery 56-45 on Dec. 1 in the third game of the season for the Vikings, the fifth for the Cardinals.

And while the Cardinals won the opening round and raised the flag as the team to beat in the Oak Division that night, they also dropped some key local games after - to a tough Healdsburg squad and then to Santa Rosa, a team that is proving it can beat anyone on any night. So perhaps the Cardinals have extra motivation to prove that the first win against the Vikings was for real.

But, for better or worse, neither side is putting too much stock in that game. Or so they say.

Both coaches, Tom Bonfigli at Cardinal Newman and Zac Tiedeman at Montgomery, say their teams are now far cries from the squads that faced off more than six weeks ago. And both coaches say their opponents will likely look demonstrably different, too.

“Last game was last game,” Tiedeman said. “We are a much different team and they are a much different team.”

Bonfligli agreed.

“I saw Montgomery play Saturday,” he said of the Vikings' 51-50 road loss to San Lorenzo High last weekend. “They are a lot better than they were when we played them. But I think we are a lot better, too.”

In addition to being better, the Cardinals are certainly different these days.

When the two teams first lined up back in December, the Cardinals were without the services of their football-playing contingent: seniors Chauncey LeBerthon, Dino Kahaulelio and Jake Woods, and junior Giancarlo Woods.

That's a lot of muscle that wasn't there for the Cardinals. It is now.

“They help our toughness, they help our depth,” Bonfigli said.

Toughness was an element lacking for Montgomery the first time these teams met this season, according to senior Vikings sharpshooter Harvey Rouleau.

“They out-toughed us the first game,” he said. “They were more physical than us.”

It's been an area of focus, he said. Box-out drills, giving the opponent one shot and out, competitions at every turn - the Vikings have worked to improve that facet of their game.

“Every day we have gotten better,” he said.

“We weren't ball strong and they got into our space a little bit,” Montgomery senior Eli Camarillo said. “As the season went on, we have gotten ball stronger and focused.”

Give Newman more than one look every time down the court and the Cardinals have the weapons to hurt a team.

The one-two punch of seniors Mason Friesch and Nathan Capurro, a four-year varsity guy, is dangerous for the Cardinals, although Bonfigli said the Cardinals' success usually comes by way of committee.

But if Friesch gets hot, it will spell trouble for the Vikings.

“He has the most potential to go off in a short period of time,” Tiedeman said. “But what makes them tough is they have five guys. They have good speed one through five … I think their strength is when multiple guys are doing it.”

But the Vikings have Rouleau, who can also score in heavy spurts. Add Camarillo's presence at forward and then the play of talented junior forward Brandon Lucas, and the Vikings present problems for opponents. Another element? They are tall across the board.

“It starts with Harvey, but they all shoot the ball,” Bonfigli said.

“But with Montgomery, they are good defensively,” he said. “We have to get rebounds on both ends of the floor.”

And despite both teams' prowess in this category, it would be a mistake to call this a game between sharpshooters.

“We are not playing H-O-R-S-E,” Bonfigli said. “You've got to make plays.”

Perhaps the most critical facet of this game? Well, beyond the fact that the winner climbs into the league's driver's seat, or that both teams have something to prove after the initial meeting - this game promises to be flat-out fun.

It's one of the better high school rivalries going.

“It's a special rivalry that dates back years,” Tiedeman said. Tiedeman played for the Vikings under longtime coach Tom Fitchie when they won the North Coast Section Division 2 titles in 2003 and 2006.

And Bonfigli - well, Bonfigli, is essentially Cardinal Newman basketball.

“With coach Bonfigli and coach Fitchie, these two guys have had many successful seasons with these programs,” Tiedeman said.

It certainly doesn't hurt that both teams are talented and come ready to play year after year.

“It's a good night for high school basketball. It brings a different energy,” Tiedeman said. “When you see them on the calendar, I'm sure people figure out the day and probably circle it.”

Whichever storyline plays out tonight, the audience is in for a treat.

“If you want to get in,” Bonfigli said. “You'd better get there early.”

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