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Cardinal Newman girls open postseason hoops play in dominant style

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Right before the high school basketball playoffs really begin to heat up, the Cardinal Newman girls earned some early confidence with a league tournament win over Ukiah High School on Tuesday night.

The Cardinals picked up their 14th straight win by easily defeating the Wildcats, 90-26, in the first round of the North Bay League-Oak Division tournament in Santa Rosa.

Newman (25-2 overall, 11-0 NBL-Oak) has dominated the 2019-20 basketball season. The Cardinals sit atop the NBL-Oak and haven’t experienced a loss since back in late December, winning by an average of more than 38 points per game and outscoring opponents 1,783 to 877 points.

Ukiah (5-22 overall, 1-8 NBL-Oak), on the other hand, finds itself sitting near the bottom of the league standings and has not had nearly the success the Cardinals have enjoyed this season.

The Wildcats entered the game on a five-game losing streak and had already suffered two defeats at the hands of Newman earlier in the year, losing 75-29 on Jan. 15 and 79-19 two weeks later.

On Saturday, Ukiah came out aggressive to start the game, pushing the pace and running the floor, but the Cardinals were too fast and able to consistently recover.

Newman took an early lead — thanks, in part, to the Cardinals’ ability to distribute the ball and some tough work on the glass.

“They’re incredibly unselfish, they pass the ball really well,” Newman coach Monica Mertle said of her players. “They want their teammates to succeed and they find joy in their teammates’ success.

“I think that was evident today, just how happy everyone was when Liz (Chambers) got to her 1,000th point and how happy everyone was when our young one got called up from the JV team and got her first basket.”

Ukiah’s Simone Adams attempted to stem the tide with a couple baskets and some clutch rebounding, but the Cardinals countered with ease and piled on to build a 27-5 lead after one quarter.

In the second, Newman’s stellar defense looked even more tenacious, poking at any loose ball they could get their hands on and making it nearly impossible to pass into the post.

But it was not just the defense that was impressive — with star Cardinals guard Anya Choice drawing much of the attention from Wildcat defenders, players like Christina Bacci and Chambers were able to convert on some good looks from long range and in the post.

Newman led 57-9 at the half.

The onslaught continued in the third, but it wasn’t just the Cardinal Newman players’ skill that helped them dominate — it was their pure effort. Whether it was diving into passing lanes to secure steals or outrunning their opponents in transition, Newman worked hard for to build a 78-15 lead heading into the fourth.

The efforts by Bacci and Emma Nordby, in particular, were “tremendous,” Mertle said.

“It started on the defensive end — they had great energy on defense, and then that translated to the offensive end and they’re both playing like seniors who don’t want their careers to end,” she said.

Despite the insurmountable lead, the Wildcats kept their composure and continued to fight — but the combination of the Cardinals’ skill and effort, as it has many times against opponents this season, proved to be too much to overcome.

Now the Cardinals will prepare to face tough talent moving forward into the postseason.

“I think the biggest thing is that we’re focused and ready to go. The competition is about to get a lot harder and we’re looking forward to being part of the first-ever NCS Open (division) and enjoying that experience and playing at a high level,” Mertle said.

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