Benefield: Persistence pays off for Cardinal Newman boys basketball in overtime win vs. Healdsburg

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Healdsburg had this one in the bag. But someone forgot to tell Cardinal Newman.

The Healdsburg ’Hounds led every second of the marquee nonleague boys basketball matchup Saturday night, from the opening tip until two seconds left in regulation — when Cardinal Newman’s Trevor Smith took an inbound pass under his own basket, and dropped in a bucket off the glass to tie the game at 44 and send it into overtime.

And when it hit overtime, the ’Hounds had nothing left to give. Cardinal Newman won 57-51 to move to 14-2 overall. The loss drops the ’Hounds to 14-3.

Though it was a nonleague matchup — Cardinal Newman plays in the North Bay League-Oak Division and Healdsburg is in the NBL-Redwood — this was a key game. These are the two teams that have risen to the top among area squads. These two teams are in different North Coast Section divisions and different leagues, but there were bragging rights to be won Saturday night.

And that infused enough drama and tension that Cardinal Newman’s gym was rocking when the game went into overtime. And it made the win — and how they pulled it off — important to the Cardinals’ season-long goals.

“Healdsburg is a great team. They had control of the game all the way through,” Cardinal Newman head coach Tom Bonfigli said. “I talk to my guys a lot about playing to the very end, regardless of the score.

“I have a lot of respect for my guys, what they have inside,” he said.

What the Cardinals had inside late in the game was one Giancarlo Woods. The senior had zero points in the first half coming off the bench, but almost singlehandedly brought the Cardinals back within striking distance in the fourth with his eight points. He chipped in four more points in overtime. He finished with 14 points, tied with Smith for most points on the night for Newman.

Woods’ contested layup in traffic with less than a minute to play in regulation brought the Cardinals to within two, 39-41.

“He’s a great athlete. He’s a gamer,” Bonfigli said of Woods. “He’s a great player, he plays hard.”

The ’Hounds still seemed in command, even with the score 44-42 in their favor with just 6 seconds on the clock. But ’Hounds coach Yasha Mokaram, knowing the Cardinals would immediately foul whoever caught the ball, changed up his inbounds play to make his best player, Dylan Hayman, the target instead of the passer.

Chase Sommer’s inbound pass skidded off the legs of Phil Helfrick and over the end line. Cardinals’ ball.

Newman’s senior big man, Smith, then converted the in-traffic bucket off of the inbound pass and the game went into overtime.

“I had someone inbounding at the end of the game that normally doesn’t inbound and that was my fault. I was trying to get to the ball to Dylan Hayman, he’s usually our inbounder. I think I just overthought it,” Mokaram said. “It’s just not a smart coaching decision on my part.”

“In a game like that, when it comes down to one play, you don’t put somebody in a spot they haven’t been in. It’s just bad coaching move,” he said.

You can’t blame Mokaram for trying to make Hayman both the passer and the catcher. He’s that good. He led all scorers with 20. And that was with a stout Cardinal Newman defense draped all over him.

“He’s a great player,” Bonfigli said. “We had a particular game plan that was targeted on him and I think we are a really good defensive team. He made some really tough shots.”

One shot he made is one the ’Hounds likely wish could be reviewed. With 0.3 seconds left in the third quarter, the ’Hounds inbounded the ball underneath their basket to Hayman, who was camped beyond the three-point arc. He was in the air when he caught it and somehow released the shot. It went in, but the officials waved it off — much to the chagrin of the large contingent of Healdsburg fans.

But Mokaram said the ’Hounds simply couldn’t contend with Newman’s bench. The Cardinals were rolling off the bench, one by one, to put relentless pressure on a talented ’Hounds squad that just was not as deep.

Add to that the illness that kept starter Dewey Widick off the floor and the fact that freshman starting guard Gavin Vogensen fouled out with 3:33 to play in regulation, and the ’Hounds just didn’t have the legs.

“I thought we gave really good effort and I think that we might have ran out of gas at the end of the game,” Mokaram said. “They are a lot deeper than we are.”

Healdsburg came into the game ranked second in the North Coast Section and fifth in California among Division 4 programs. Cardinal Newman is ranked seventh in the section among Division 2 schools.

Last season, these two teams met only once, with the ’Hounds winning that early season contest 56-49.

More than the “W” on the team’s record, Bonfigli said the grit his team showed in clawing back and staying the course was the real win Saturday night.

“They beat us last year and our guys are proud. We expect to win, especially in this gym,” he said. “It’s a game we really wanted to win. The most important thing in this game is how we won the game. That goes miles and miles and miles.”

That said, there is still business at hand.

“The Piner game is a more important game on Tuesday,” he said of their league rivals. “We don’t have a lot of time to enjoy this game.”

Across the gym, Mokaram had a similar message for his team: It’s one game. The ’Hounds’ goal is to win league and Saturday night’s result does nothing to change that.

“I told them that if this becomes a hangover that lasts multiple days, then it impacts our goal,” he said. “I told them on Monday when they walk in the gym, I don’t want to see anyone pouty or feeling sorry for themselves or anything. It’s just time to move on.”

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

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