SJND Women Beat Cardinal Newman for North Coast Section Open Division Championship

CIF-NCS    The Pilots celebrated their NCS Open Division win with their former coach Shawn Hipol’s head.

The St. Joseph Notre Dame (SJND) women’s basketball team were crowned the inaugural North Coast Section (NCS) Open Division champions after defeating Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa, 67-58, Friday, Feb. 28.

The No. 1-seed Pilots used a 16-0 run late in the fourth quarter to beat the No. 3-seed Cardinals at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. SJND trailed 46-39 after a 3-pointer by Cardinals junior Aysia Dural. The Pilots were behind for most of the second half even though the Cardinals best player, UC Santa Barbara-bound senior Anya Choice, sat on the bench for most of it with foul trouble. 

SJND slowly chipped at the lead and tied the game at 49-49 with 4:34 left after a 3-pointer by UC Riverside-bound senior Malia Mastora. Cardinal Newman coach Monica Mertle decided to put Choice back in the game one foul short of being ejected. 

The Cardinals responded with a three-pointer to take back the lead at 52-49, but the Pilots responded with their 16-0 run. The first seven points of the run were scored by sophomore guard Randi Harding. The Pilots got another lift when Choice was called for her fifth foul and was ejected from the game five points into the massive run. With Choice out of the game, Pilot interim coach Brian Sato called for his team to use a full-court press. The press dazed the Cardinals and their offense sputtered as a result.

The Pilots led, 65-52, before the Cardinals broke the run, but it was too late for a comeback attempt. 

The game was back-and-forth for much of the contest. The Pilots led, 14-13, after the first quarter but trailed, 25-24, at halftime. The Cardinals stretched their lead to 43-39 entering the fourth quarter. 

In a game where senior leader Malia Mastora scored just seven points, two sophomores led the way for Pilots. Harding came off the Pilots’ bench to lead all scorers with 18 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, while fellow sophomore Talana Lepolo contributed 14 points. Junior Makena Mastora added 12 points for the Pilots.

Choice was held to just five points after playing 15 of 32 minutes due to foul trouble. In the previous game, Choice scored 43 points in the Cardinals’ 64-59 victory over Salesian College Preparatory of Richmond in the NCS semifinals. The Pilots’ defense also contributed to Choice’s poor numbers. SJND used several defenders to guard the senior. Senior Christina Bacci was the leading scorer for Cardinal Newman with 13 points.

The Pilots were overly joyful after winning the up-and-down contest. They dedicated the win to former head coach Shawn Hipol who resigned in January after a dispute with a school administrator who was upset with the lopsided victories the Pilots had in the regular season. The players took a team photo with a cardboard cutout of the coach’s face while wearing their championship medals. This is the Pilots’ third section title in five years. 

The 23-7 Pilots now will take part in the California interscholastic Federation (CIF) NorCal Open Division Tournament. The No. 2-seed Pilots received an opening-round bye. 

SJND’s first game will take place Saturday, March 7, against Clovis West at home. Last year the Pilots lost in the first round of the NorCal Open Division tournament, 55-47, to Salesian.