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North Coast Section Girls Open Division championship: Cardinal Newman takes down top seed San Ramon Valley

Newman wins 26th straight game while halting Wolves 26-game win streak in game between two of the top 11 teams in the state

It was the middle of a 10-0 run and a five-minute scoring drought for the Cardinal Newman girls basketball team, which had finally given up the lead for the first time, 50-46 with a little more than four minutes to play. 

Simply, it was "believing" time. 

Monica Mertle believed in her Cardinals, who had won 25 straight games coming in. But then again, the team they faced, the top-seeded San Ramon Valley Wolves went into this North Coast Section Open Division final at Dublin High riding a 26-game win streak. 

"It was all about leadership and believing," Mertle said. 

Newman girls enjoying the final moments of Saturday's win.

Newman girls enjoying the final moments of Saturday's win.

Newman not only believed in themselves, but Mertle's inside-out approach which trickled back inside to key an 8-0 run and 12-3 en route to a thoroughly entertaining 61-55 victory in a game that featured two teams ranked among the top 11 in the state. 

San Ramon Valley (28-2) did a superb job containing 6-foot-1 national recruit  Taissa Queiroz, who finished with just 15 points and 12 rebounds — pedestrian compared to her normal numbers. 

But the Cardinals got a team-high 18 points from Kate Schat and 13 points and 10 rebounds by Janella Pena, who had three big buckets down the stretch. It was enough to hold off the Wolves who got 16 points and 10 rebounds by Sofia Bowes and 15 points by Tera Chen. 

Taissa Queiroz (left) and San Ramon Valley tussled fiercely throughout Saturday's game.

Taissa Queiroz (left) and San Ramon Valley tussled fiercely throughout Saturday's game.

The victory also avenged a pair of defeats to SRV the last two seasons, one eliminating the Cardinals from the NCS Open Division last season. Newman also made a statement to perhaps the seeding committee, which had SRV picked over the Wolves despite SBLive and Cal-Hi Sports ranking Newman over the Wolves. 

SBLive had the Cardinals No. 4 in the state rankings and SRV at No. 11.  

"We have great balance and styles of play all over the court," said Mertle, whose program won its second section title after winning at Division 4 in 2017. "Our strategy was to go inside out and the girls made it work." 

They needed everything to click against the balance and battled-tested Wolves, who lost for the third straight year in the Open final. They knocked off Newman last season 49-41 to get to the final and in a nonleague game in 2021. 

Newman opened the game with a 3-pointer from Kaida Angelo, then went inside for three straight buckets before Schat drilled a 3-pointer. After two more layups, Schat drilled another 3-pointer and Newman led 19-13 after the first quarter. 

Taissa Queiroz (12) goes out on Tera Chen. 

Taissa Queiroz (12) goes out on Tera Chen. 

A little off kilter, the Wolves battled back and after back-to-back 3-pointers from Avery Knapp the game was tied at 21-21. 

Back out yonder went the Cardinals as Leah Mauritson swished back-to-back 3-pointers followed another by Angelo. Just liked that, Newman was up 9. 

 "SRV is a good team and we needed everyone to step up to beat them," Queiroz said. "I wasn't frustrated (to not score a lot of points), I just needed to help my teammates." 

The Wolves made run after run in the second and third quarters, closing to 37-36 on a 3-pointer by Chen, but Newman always had an answer, in this case back-to-back 3s from Schat and Mauritson. They took a 46-40 lead heading into the fourth, when they went ice cold and San Ramon Valley chipped away and eventually took a 50-46 with 4:37 to play. 

Kate Schat scored a game-high 18 points for Newman.

Kate Schat scored a game-high 18 points for Newman.

San Ramon Valley would score only five more points the rest of the way, when Newman exploded for 15. 

Both teams are likely headed to the CIF Northern California Open Division tournament, which will be announced Sunday. 

"I'm really proud of the girls," Mertle said. "We're going to treasure this one for a night and transition into NorCals next week."