By Larry Moko
Moments after Cardinal Newman’s narrow loss at the OFSAA gold-medal basketball game in Guelph Saturday, Renata Djuravcevic of the Cardinals confidently made a prediction.
“We’ll be back next year, better than ever,” the gritty Grade 11 guard said.
Top-seeded Newman, which cruised to four one-sided victories to open the 16-team girls’ AAA provincial tournament, fell 46-41 to the third-seeded St. Joseph’s Bears of Toronto in the final at Centennial Collegiate.
It was the first OFSAA girls’ basketball medal for Newman in its history. The bronze medal went to Kingston’s Holy Cross Crusaders.
“It’s disappointing … we all thought we could win,” Djuravcevic said. “It was a really close game, though. I felt we did really well.”
The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic representatives never held a lead. They trailed 16-9, 24-14 and 32-27 at the quarter breaks. Newman, however, did tie the score at 37s with three minutes remaining on a steal by Djuravcevic that set up a layup basket by Elle Cooney.
“In the beginning, they got the jump on us which kind of lowered our confidence,” Djuravcevic said. “They are a very good defensive team. They trap so well. They got us on the trap a lot. That’s why we turned the ball over so many times.”
Djuravcevic paced Newman’s offence with 18 points. Tatyanna Burke added 11 and Katumina Mansaray netted six.
For the Bears, point guard Micah Dennis tossed in a game-high 19 points, including five from the free-throw line after Newman pulled into a tie. Sydney Fearon contributed nine points for St. Joseph’s and Nakeisha Ekwandja added six.
“They had a big lead in the first quarter, but we chipped away,” said Newman coach Roy Milutinovic. “We ended up tying it. They just played a little better than us down the stretch. When we fouled them, they hit their free throws.
“I’m proud for the girls and proud for the school.”
Milutinovic said the Cardinals did a great job against a “long and athletic” opposing team. “They cover the floor well,” the Newman coach said. “They create turnovers. That’s what they’re built for.”
Bears coach Paul Weekes said he was “a bit shocked” that the Cardinals weren’t more aggressive at the outset.
“They usually like to press a lot,” he said. “I know they tried a little but they backed off on it. Our game plan was to just handle the press. I thought we were bigger and stronger inside, so second opportunities would be our advantage.”
The championship for St. Joseph’s was its first at the provincial level.
“We finally made it,” Weekes said of the gold medal. Last year, St. Joseph’s captured OFSAA silver and in 2015 the Bears reached the provincial quarter-finals.
“Maturity made the difference this year,” the Bears coach said. “We’ve had them since Grade 9. They understand what championship basketball is all about and how to compose themselves.”
Weekes’ twin daughters, Paulla and Anika, are starters on the team and committed to attend Iona College and Central Michigan University, respectively, for the fall of 2018.
Earlier this season, Newman won the HWCAA title for the first time since 1985. The Cardinals then qualified for OFSAA by taking the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference championship.