By Larry Moko, Special to the News
Cardinal Newman is one win away from going undefeated in senior boys' basketball play for the first time in the east Hamilton high school's history.
Although the Cardinals captured the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association championship in 2012 -- they last accomplished the feat in 1988-89 -- their record entering the playoffs last season was only 9-5. This year, Newman cruised to a perfect 14-0 mark.
And Tuesday night, on home court, the Cardinals continued to soar in the playoffs. They downed the shortstaffed St. Mary Crusaders 57-41 to qualify for Thursday's league championship game at McMaster University. Their next opponent will be the Academie Mere-Terese Jaguars, who outgunned the Bishop Tonnos Titans 92-70 in Tuesday's other semifinal.
The championship midget, junior and senior tripleheader at Mac begins at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
"It's a big accomplishment," Cardinals point guard David McCulloch said of his team's unblemished record against league opponents thus far. "We're happy about it, but we're not satisfied."
According to McCulloch, Newman was content with winning the league title last season and that's why they got blown out in the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference final against Oakville Holy Trinity. That loss eliminated the Cardinals from a shot at the Ontario Quad A championship tournament.
"Our team has worked really hard since last year," McCulloch said. "We took a month off in March and then started workouts again in April. It would be a failure if we didn't make it to OFSAA this time.
"We're not the tallest team, but we work hard. We haven't let a team score 50 points against us yet."
Against St. Mary, which dressed only seven players, the Cardinals held quarter leads of 10-6, 28-21 and 43-31. Newman got eight points apiece from McCulloch, Dimitri Rakas and Luiggy Moquette Diaz, while A.J. Manguera and Tyler Brown chipped in with seven each. Daniel Petermann and Philip Gillen contributed six apiece
St. Mary got 10 points by Madziea MacBeth. Mackenzie Randall netted seven.
"What we're probably the best at is defence," Cardinals coach Andrew Sergi said. "We play consistently strong, team defence. We talk and work hard. Our kids have bought in to everything since the very beginning."
St. Mary finished in fifth place with a 6-8 record before upsetting the fourth-place St. Thomas More Knights 44-42 in a recent quarter-final. Said Sergi: "Getting to the semis was a great achievement for them (St. Mary). If they didn't have a couple of injuries (that sidelined leading scorer Matt Elcock and Liam Quinn) they probably could have done a lot more damage. Even with seven players they were a dangerous team. They are well coached and they work hard."
At ACMT, the Jaguars used their quickness, defensive dominance and three-point shooting prowess to pull away from the Titans. Bishop Tonnos's Trevor Kennedy connected on a three-point shot to open the second half but, after that, the Jags went on a 33-18 run to lead 70-51 at the three-quarter mark.
Point guard Hamid Nessek sparked the second-place Jaguars with 28 points.Other leading scorers for ACMT were Emmanuel Mukuna, with 18 points, Nickan Sahlollbey, with 15 (on five three-pointers) and J.V Mukama, with 10 points.
"They're very good defensively," Titans 6-foot-6 forward Colin Corrigan said of the Jags, who perennially dominate at the provincial Single A level. "They were in our shorts all game. They also hit a lot of threes. We just couldn't get out there to contest them."
Corrigan turned in a solid rebounding performance. He also muscled his way to the basket for 22 points. Forward Anthony Mercanti added 17 for the visitors and Kennedy chipped in with 16.
During the regular schedule, third-place Bishop Tonnos (9-5) lost twice to ACMT (11-3). In their final meeting, however, the Jags needed overtime to eke out a one-point decision at the buzzer.
"We did as much as we could to be prepared," Corrigan said. "We tried to run their offence at practices. It's all about mental toughness. We were there for the first half, but then they went on a roll. I don't know whether it was because of their home-court advantage."
Other quarter-final scores from last week were: Newman 71, Bishop Ryan 21; ACMT 68, Brebeuf 55; Tonnos 62, Cathedral 58.