Cardinal Newman improved to 16-2 on Saturday with a 61-48 win over visiting Bishop England in what has become an annual non-region basketball showdown between the state’s two largest and oldest Catholic high schools.
CN and BE now play regularly in most team sports, a development that began at the behest of former Bishop England coach and alumnus Mike Bolchoz who was hired to be the Cardinals football coach in 2007. Bolchoz is now in his first year as the new principal at Bishop England, but still has Cardinal Newman ties. His daughter, Amanda, is in her senior year at CN and is a member of the basketball team. Bolchoz was on hand to watch the action.
BE enjoys an overall 13-7 edge in the all-time series that began in 1982, but the teams have split four decisions since the all-Catholic hoops confrontation was revived in 2007.
The young Cardinals, who are led by sophomores Austin Ajukwa and Michael Collins, took the lead (9-8) for good on two free throws by Collins at the 2:26 mark of the first quarter. After a three-point play by freshman center Joe Armstrong at 4:43 of the third quarter, Cardinal Newman’s lead slipped below 10 points just one more time the rest of the way.
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The only negative aspect of the impressive CN performance was poor free throw shooting in the fourth quarter. The Cards were an unsightly 13-for-24 at the line in the final eight minutes.
“We’ve been pretty good at the line this year, but today wasn’t pretty,” said coach Kevin Rose.
“We had a tough region game last night, and we just didn’t seem to have our legs in the fourth quarter.”
The Cardinals have been a pleasant surprise to all involved. Cardinal Newman spent most of December in the No. 1 position in the SCISA rankings.
“Yes, we are very young team, but I really thought we had a chance to be pretty good,” said Rose. “I just didn’t expect to have this much success so soon. It’s been fun so far and we want to keep things going.”
The youthful Cardinals learned a big lesson in early January, blowing a huge lead in a road loss to reigning SCISA champion Pinewood Prep.
“We led by 18 points late in the third quarter, but we couldn’t put them away,” said Rose. “That was a bit of a wake up call. The boys know they certainly can play with the best, but they also know that to beat to best its takes a full four quarters.”
Ajukwaa 6-foot-5 slashed his way through the BE defense for a game high 19 points. Collins and senior Colburn Gatling provided solid support. Collins scored 10 of his 11 points in the first half, while Gatling scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. Gatling, in fact, was the only reliable Cardinal at the line down the stretch, going 6-for-8.