For host Casa Grande to upset first-place Cardinal Newman on the hardwoods, the energetic Gauchos needed to play a near-perfect basketball game on both ends of the floor Tuesday night.
The Gauchos didn’t quite get that job done, but they did turn in a very competitive game that forced the North Bay League leaders to grind away away in the second half for a highly entertaining 67-52 win to stay locked in the top spot after one full round of play.
The fired-up Gauchos jumped to a 13-9 first-quarter lead that pressured Cardinal coach Tom Bonfigli to eventually abandon his plan of substituting in units, and settle mostly on starting players for the rest of the night. Casa Grande turned the ball over several times in the second period, and each mistake lessened its chances of drawing closer to the smooth Cardinals for the entire game.
Newman finally took advantage of its excellent team passing to carve up the hustling Casa Grande zone defense, but the Gauchos only trailed 29-23 at intermission. Soft, accurate bounce passing set up Newman interior players for short bank shots that helped it pull away, but the issue was not decided until the third stanza.
Casa Grande got some hard-earned offense from guard Ian Cerruti and some outside marksmanship from junior guard Noah Bailey to stay right in the hunt. Cerruti made the most of athletic drives to the hoop, and Bailey helped out with nine points before intermission.
The key to the game came in the third stanza when the Newman machine outscored the Gauchos, 25-14, and the margin became too much for the Casa club to overcome as time began to be its enemy. Twice the hosts chopped the lead to nine points, but got no closer.
Cardinal Newman didn’t have to rely on long-distance shooting because the visitors calmly worked the ball around the perimeter, dropping feather-like passes for cutting teammates to convert in the paint. The third-rated team in the North Coast Section Division 2 was pushed to the limit, but only Bailey and Cerruti could find the range for Casa in the third stanza.
Bailey knocked in a 3-pointer to open the fourth period, and the dangerous Garrett Siebels shook off some foul trouble to hit a short-range runner as the Cardinal Newman lead was chopped to 41-32, but that was as close as the game would get.
The fast-closing Gauchos showed no quit, running off six unanswered points in the final minute in a closing competitive burst. Isaiah Cappelen hustled off the bench to run the floor and convert a couple of layup shots in the rally.
Cerruti finished with 18 points for Casa Grande, while Bailey found the range for 19. Bailey also grabbed four loose balls and turned in a solid floor game. Siebels converted a couple of shots from distance in the first half, and finished with eight points.
Cardinal Newman improved to 15-3 for the season and 6-1 in the NBL. Casa Grande had a modest two-game win streak snapped and fell to 2-5 in the NBL and 6-13 overall.
Three Newman players finished in double figures, with junior guard Nathan Capuro leading the way with 16 points. Trevor Smith added 11.
Casa Grande won a very loosely played junior varsity game by a count of 79-71 over the junior Cardinals.