Newark Memorial High had a few problems in their first three NCS playoff games and the Cougars may have appeared to be ripe for an upset going into the North Coast Section Division II title game Friday night against Windsor High.
But that proved to be wrong, very wrong.
The top-seeded Cougars (26-4) took control from the outset of the boys basketball title game at Dublin High and kept it throughout. Newark broke it open late in the third quarter and rolled on to a 60-41 victory over the number two seeded Jaguars.
“We had great energy tonight,” an elated Newark coach Craig Ashmore said. “We played this game the way wanted to the whole night.”
The Cougars, who reached the NCS semifinals last year when the school was in Division I before falling to eventual champion Castro Valley High, had gotten off to slow starts in each of their previous three wins in the playoffs over Mt. Eden, Dougherty Valley and Las Lomas.
Not this time.
The Cougars led 9-3 after a defensive first quarter and pushed it to 28-16 by halftime.
Windsor (26-5) mounted a small rally in the third quarter to narrow it to 34-26, but Newark responded with an 8-0 run that pretty much put it way.
And if it wasn’t decided by the time the Cougars took a 42-28 lead into the fourth quarter, the first play of the final quarter removed all doubt.
Sophomore big man, hefty 6-foot-6 Damien Banford overpowered Windsor guard Christian Mcalvain near midcourt, ripping the ball away for a steal and then feeding fellow soph Joey Frenchwood, who took it to the hoop for a bucket and one. His free throw completed the three-point play and made it 45-28.
“You hate it when you dictate play all night and then they come back on you,” Ashmore said. “But our guys responded real well.”
Frenchwood and Jalan Rodgers led a balanced Newark Memorial attack with 12 points each. Mission Valley Athletic League MVP guard Casey Norris added 11 and Banford bulled his way to nine more points.
Tanner Giddings paced Windsor with 12 and Kameron Richardson had 11 points.
Norris saw this NCS title as redemption for last year’s loss to Castro Valley.
“It feels good. We wanted to redeem ourselves,” the senior said.
Norris was proud of the Cougars’ team effort.
“I could score six points and we could still get the win,” Norris said.
One thing held true from the Cougars’ previous playoff games. They still wore down their opponent in the second half.
Despite getting no challenge in an unbeaten league season, Newark responded in the playoffs with mentally tough play, particularly as a game goes on.
Norris attributes it “to practice. We got all out every day in our practices.”
The last time Newark Memorial was in Division II, in 2000, the Cougars went all the way to the state title game before bowing to a team led by Tyson Chandler.
Ashmore has high hopes but is afraid to think about it.
About the NorCals starting next week, the coach said, “Hopefully, we’ll get a good seed (in the top four), get a home game and a bye. Then maybe we can win a couple and get to where we want to go.”
But Ashmore knows, Division II’s path can be just a tough as Division I, as San Jose’s national power, Archbishop Mitty, is in the division.
Norris takes this approach: “I think our chances are good. We look at it as just the next tournament. We just go to the next one and try to win that one too.”