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Dons seize control of tight game

01/03/2013, 12:01am PST
By Craig Malveaux

Mira Mesa High drew within three points in the fourth quarter.

Cathedral Catholic’s Xavier Williams (23) shoots past St. Augustine’s Drew Peterson (20) in a January 2012 game. Williams is among the team’s returning top contributors. John R. McCutchen • U-T

Mira Mesa High drew within three points in the fourth quarter.

The Marauders converted a pair of free throws and a three-pointer during a 5-0 run against Cathedral Catholic in last week’s Cathedral Catholic Holiday Basketball Tournament.

The clock showed two minutes and change left.

Seconds later, Dons senior guard Xavier Williams drove the lane — a sea of blue jerseys collapsing on him — and dished the ball to a wide-open Niksha Federico camped around the 3-point line.

Federico set his feet and fired. Swoosh. The senior forward’s 3-pointer seized every ounce of momentum left in Claver Center. It initiated a 12-point finish for Cathedral Catholic en route to a 60-46 win over Mira Mesa.

“It was a good early challenge for us in the season,” Federico said. “If we experience a game like that later on, where the game is tight late, we’ll know what to do.”

Coach Will Cunningham was pleased with the way his team closed out Mira Mesa, but wasn’t encouraged by some of the opportunities he felt his team squandered.

“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well tonight,” Cunningham said. “A lot of open looks that we didn’t make.”

Perhaps the Dons spoiled Cunningham a bit. In the two tournament games before its showdown with Mira Mesa, Cathedral trounced Olympian and Madison by an average of 42 points. Following the win over the Marauders, the Dons clinched the tournament title with an 83-53 romp over Las Flores Tesoro.

Next up is Saturday’s Western League opener against rival St. Augustine.

The wins improved No. 2-ranked Cathedral Catholic to 12-2 on the season. Santa Maria St. Joseph and Etiwanda provided the only losses — by a combined 10 points.

“We’ve all been playing since freshman year together, so that really helps us on the court,” Federico said. “We trust each other to make plays and rotate a lot of guys in, which keeps us fresh. That’s a big part of our success, the chemistry we have.”

Last season, in Cunningham’s third year running the Cathedral Catholic program, the Dons defeated Mission Bay 65-64 to win the San Diego Section Division III championship. The team won 30 games, including 10 in league play, and reached the Southern California Regional semifinals.

This season, the Dons are off to a similar start. The reason? Their top contributors — Nick Prunty, Brandon Michel, Michael Rosenburg, Williams and Federico — have returned. Mix in Parker Holland and freshman Reid Johnson and Cathedral has a recipe for continued success, according to Cunningham.

Federico is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15 per game. Behind him are Williams, who drops in 12.9 per game, and senior Prunty, who chips in 10.2 per game.

“We put in a system that is conducive to our guys doing well, one that everyone could flourish in,” Cunningham said.

“We use the principles of the dribble drive system — knowing how to attack a man and space the floor which gives us opportunities to be successful.”

What the Dons don’t have is size. The tallest player listed — Federico — is 6-feet-6, which potentially poses trouble against the county’s bigger teams. Staying true to their attack-and-dish system gives them a chance to overcome the size and height disparities.

“We have mismatches on offense,” Federico said.

“We are smaller, but we’re quicker and a lot of our players can’t really shoot the basketball. We might have mismatches on defense, size-wise, but I feel our offense can counteract that.”

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