For most of the season, the Cardinal Newman Girls team was considered next year’s team.  That isn’t taken as a compliment in sports, because it is mostly used on a team that can’t seem to win the big game.   The Dallas Cowboys were called that in the late 60’s and the 49ers are getting dangerously close to that now.

In this case it was thought that way because of, starting last season, how far the Cardinal Newman Girls has come with such a young team that had everyone coming back from a 16-9 last season, to a team improving right in front of your eyes this season and have most returning for what is setting up to be a monster 2014-15.

It turns out they are this year’s team.

For the second time in a little over a week, Cardinal Newman used the same formula and defeated Santa Rosa, the area’s No. 1 team all season long, 47-42 to win the NBL Post Season Girls Championship.

Cardinal Newman has a nine winning streak and is 22-9 on the season and wins its first NBL Tournament Championship since 2004, when they were Ursuline.

Santa Rosa was playing in this game for the third time in four years and drops it for the second straight year and falls to 25-3.

The formula was really the same in all three games, Cardinal Newman fell behind early and then rallied to make it a game.   They improved on that formula each time.  The first game they fell behind farther and after rallying to get back into the game they ended up losing by a one sided score. 

The second game they didn’t fall behind as much, and then had a big fourth quarter to get the win.

That is what happened in this game.  Santa Rosa took a 7-0 lead in the first two minutes of the game.  Part of the start was a three point shot by Kylie Oden, which turned out to be the Panthers only three point shot of the game.   This time Cardinal Newman was quick in responding and they had the lead before the first quarter was over.  

Back to back old fashion three point plays by the team’s two leading scorers, Junior Kylie Kiech and Sophomore Tiffany Salinas, gave Cardinal Newman a 10-9 lead with two minutes to go in the first quarter.

It was game on after that.   That was the first of four lead changes to end the quarter.  Santa Rosa would lead most of the way.   Their biggest lead was 22-15 after Morgan Bertsch hit two free throws with 5:38 left in the second quarter.

Yes Morgan did play.  She didn’t start, but came into the game a little over three minutes into the game.   That she would play was of course a question mark after she had been out over a week after the concussion she received the last time these two teams met.    Bertsch was given a doctors clearance and got a roaring ovation when she came into the game.  As expected, the NBL Co-Player of the year had an impact with ten points and a game high eight rebounds.   The crowd held its collective breath at one moment when she went down fairly hard.   She was up quickly though.

Bertsch also did a good job defensively on Salinas, who looked dominating in the early part of the second quarter by scoring Cardinal Newman’s first seven points and five of a seven point run that wiped out the 22-15 lead.    Bertsch then started guarding Salinas and she was having no luck against the 6’ 4” senior.  To make matters worse, she committed her fourth foul which forced her to sit out all the third quarter. 

Santa Rosa had a 26-24 lead at the half and T]that is when another similarity to the Cardinal Newman win that ended the regular season nine days ago popped up.  It that game Freshman Hailey Vice-Neat scored 23 of a season high 25 points in the second half, including some clutch fourth quarter shots in the 62-53 win.

In this game, Vice-Neat didn’t have any stats in the first half.   That changed twenty seconds into the third quarter when she hit two free throws to make it a 26-26 game.    She started the scoring in a defensive third quarter and ended with a three that made it 32-32..

The fourth quarter was intense in front of what by now was a packed crowd at SRJC hanging on every play.   The other NBL Co-Player of the year Katie Daly was having a tough night, but scored six of the Santa Rosa’s eight fourth quarter points.  Her second hoop would be the last tie at 36-36 with 5:20 left in the game.

On the next possession Vice-Neat, who ended up with 12 points, nailed a three pointer to give Cardinal Newman the lead for good.  After the teams traded baskets, Daly scored her eighth point of the game to make it 41-40 with 4:10 left.   Santa Rosa wouldn’t score for nearly the next four minutes, when a basket by Oden made it 45-42 with :14.8 left.  

Santa Rosa had to foul and it was the freshman Vice-Neat, who after missing the front end of a one and one thirty second earlier, nailed two free throws to put the game away.

Salinas, despite the foul trouble and fouling out with 2:30 left, was the game leading scorer with 15 points.   Kiech, along with Vice-Neat, scored 12.  Kiech’s first basket was what stop the 7-0 Santa Rosa run that started the game.   She also hit a clutch shot with 2:45 left which gave Cardinal Newman a 45-40 lead, which along with the final, was the Cardinal’s biggest lead of the game.

Besides Bertsch, Junior Devin Murray was the only one to score in double figures with 12.   She scored four of six Santa Rosa third quarter points, the last two free throws with made it 32-29 Santa Rosa with 3:50 left in the quarter.

Now it is onto selection day for the North Coast Section Playoffs.

The loss might end up costing Santa Rosa a No. 1 seed in the Division 1 bracket.

The win should assure that Cardinal Newman will host a first round game and they could be a top four in the Division 4 brackets.

When Ursuline won the NBL in 2004 it was third straight season that they won the Regular Season Championship and fourth straight they won the Post Season tournament, which is the longest Girls streak in tournament history.  Cardinal Newman Head Coach Monica Mertle, who is finishing her third year as Cardinal Newman, was part of most of those teams before graduating in 2003.

It is looking an awful lot like back to the future for Cardinal Newman.

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