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March 24, 2010 > Newark wins Nor Cal championship

Newark wins Nor Cal championship

By Giovanni Albanese Jr.
Photos By William Mancebo

Newark Memorial High School boys basketball was champing at the bit for its rematch with De La Salle High School in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Northern Regional Finals on Saturday, March 20, at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

In its second tournament finals match-up with De La Salle in two weeks, Newark got the best of its foe, racing out to a 22-point, third-quarter lead before holding onto victory in the Northern California Bracket, 58-49, to advance to the CIF State Championship for the first time in 10 years.

"Anytime you get here is big," said Newark coach Craig Ashmore. "To complete the deal was amazing."

Newark's win came in large part to the Cougars defense which, in the third quarter, held De La Salle to six points and no field goals while forcing 10 turnovers. After three quarters, Newark held a 43-22 lead.

"Defensively, the whole first half we did that too," said Ashmore about the team's third-quarter explosion, which saw Newark's lead jump from eight to 21 points. "We were getting stops and they weren't getting it across half court."

Newark forced 30 turnovers, and coach Ashmore felt they needed every one of them.

"Anytime you get double-digit turnovers from them, you're doing good," said Ashmore. "So to get 30, we needed all 30 to get it done."

But De La Salle didn't give up after its sluggish third quarter, going on a 22-5 run over the first six minutes, cutting the Cougars lead to four, 48-44.

"We missed some free throws and they made a nice little run" said Ashmore. "So we were able to hold them off and we're happy."

Newark found the range from the free-throw line to close out the game, sinking 10-14 in the final two minutes to stretch its lead and secure the victory.

Leading the Cougars offensive showing was senior big-man Khion Sankey, who got 19 points on 8-13 shooting from the field. Sankey also pulled down seven boards in the winning cause.

"It's a big win for us," said Sankey. "It means a lot but it's nothing if we lose in the state championship."

Jisuan Randle came up big for the Cougars, causing havoc down low, while earning 13 trips to the line, burying eight of his 13 attempts, scoring 10 points on the night.

On Saturday, March 6, as the top seed in the North Coast Section Division I Finals, Newark was upset by the second-seeded Spartans, 40-37, at St. Mary's College in Moraga.

"It was big because they beat us two weeks ago," said Sankey of sinking the Spartans on Saturday night. "They're a good program and I wish them the best next year, but this year is ours."

Newark started strong, racing out to an early 6-2 lead by forcing a number of turnovers. Newark ended the frame how it started off, on a scoring spree, netting five points in the final minute, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Gavin Presley, to take an 11-9 lead after one.

In the second, the Cougars ratcheted up its defense, creating several more turnovers (18 to end the half) from its full-court press. Led by Sankey's 10 first-half points, the Cougars took an eight-point, 24-16, lead into the locker room.

De La Salle center John McArthur kept his Spartans in the game, single-handedly bringing his team back from the 20-plus point deficit prior to defeat. On the night, McArthur imposed his will on Newark's frontline, scoring 27 points and getting to the line 12 times.

Newark Memorial had a taste of glory in the CIF tournament a decade ago, while playing in the division two bracket. In its only trip to the regional final, Newark defeated St. Francis High School of Mountain View, 55-46, on March 11, 2000, also at Arco Arena, before losing to Compton High School in the state championship.

Newark will face Westchester High School (31-3) in the CIF State Championship on Saturday, March 27, at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. As the second seed in the CIF Southern California Bracket, the Comets beat top-seeded Mater Dei High School, 71-63, on Saturday night, March 20, to make its sixth trip to the CIF State Championship in 12 years.

"We have a week to prepare, and hopefully we're ready to go," said Ashmore about the team's quest for its first state title. Sankey agrees, saying the team needs to "practice hard and just go hard," to be ready.

Log onto the Tri-City Voice Sports Web site -- www.tricityvoice.com/sports -- to track the Cougars on its quest for the school's first state championship.

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