MOUNT CARROLL – For three quarters, Newman coach Ray Sharp was mixing and matching, experimenting with lineups that would work to fend off a pesky Riverdale club.
In the fourth quarter, he found something, and the result was a 63-52 victory Friday night in the championship game of the Class 2A West Carroll Regional. The Comets move on to the Byron Sectional, where they will meet Seneca on Wednesday.
This game was a far cry from the regular-season meeting between Newman and Riverdale, won by the Comets 80-60.
"They came out way more fired up than they did last time," Newman senior Kyle Moore said. "We knew that coming in. Last time, it was a conference game that really didn't matter for placing."
Newman (24-4) seized control early, thanks in part to three first-quarter 3-pointers from junior guard A.J. Sharp, but Riverdale (15-14) got back into it with 10-2 run to close the second quarter. When the Rams broke the Comets' pressure, senior guard Bart Johnson was often the finisher, and he dropped in 13 first-half points on 5-for-7 shooting.
Newman was clinging to a 42-40 lead entering the fourth quarter before finally getting some breathing room. The key was a rotation that had coach Sharp bringing in Noah McCarty, Lucas Terveer and Nic Miller to specialize on defense, with guards Micah Trancoso, Nate Terveer and John Payan subbing in to spread the floor on offense.
Riverdale scored just four points through the first 7 minutes of the quarter against some suffocating Newman defense.
"For three quarters, that was fun basketball," Riverdale coach Jason Hendrix said. "Both sides made plays. In the fourth quarter, I don't think it was our offense as much as it was Newman's defense. We got a little rugged there and took some quick shots, but most of that was them. You've got to give them credit. They played some great defense."
Moore was the anchor with eight rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots, but he had plenty of help. Lucas Terveer and A.J. Sharp each had a pair of steals, while McCarty drew a charge to negate a potential 3-point play by Johnson with 5:47 remaining and Newman up just 47-40.
"It was team defense that slowed them down in the fourth quarter," Moore said. "We finally clicked as a team – rotating, getting steals, stopping their fast-break penetration, which had killed us."
Johnson and Jared Richmond led Riverdale with 13 points apiece, while Drew Beale contributed eight points and eight rebounds.
Sharp led Newman with 18 points, half of which came from the free-throw line in the final quarter. Moore had 16 points, and Miller added 12.
The Comets won their second consecutive regional, after not having won one since 1996. They'll take on Seneca, a 52-50 winner over St. Bede in the Bureau Valley Regional title game, on Wednesday in Byron.
Newman assistant coach Tim Nelson scouted the Fighting Irish at BV on Wednesday, a 42-40 decision over Hall, as well as on Friday.
"We'll have two good films on them from the last two games they played," Sharp said, "and hopefully we can find a way to beat 'em."
Star of the game: Kyle Moore, Newman, 16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 blocks
Key performers: A.J. Sharp, Newman, 18 points; Bart Johnson, Jared Richmond, Riverdale, 13 points apiece
Up next: Byron Sectional, Newman vs. Seneca, 7:30 Wednesday