MASON CITY — When it comes to conference titles, baseball was king at Newman Catholic all the way up until this summer. Now, maybe it’s the basketball team’s turn to share some of the glory.
The Knights wrapped up a share of the Top of Iowa Conference East Division title with a 74-47 win over St. Ansgar on Friday. With Rockford beating North Butler, the Knights and Warriors are co-champions.
It’s the first conference title in basketball for Newman since 1987.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Newman senior Justin Fausnaugh said. “It hasn’t been done here in 30 years so it was one of our goals at the beginning of the season to change that and right now we have goal No. 1 checked off.”
Newman was not considered as the conference favorite coming into the year, but the Knights made it their mission to get to the point where others are respecting their game. It was a run which included an 11-game winning streak, and the Knights won 15 of their last 16 games to finish as one of the hottest teams in the area.
Changing the perception that they’re only a baseball school was also on the list of things to accomplish. A conference title goes a long way in doing so, they say.
“It’s unbelievable because it’s going to change the way people look at us,” Faushnaugh said. “We’re not done yet and we’ve still got work to do.”
Other than falling in an 8-0 hole right away in Friday night’s game vs. the Saints, Newman looked as good as it had all season.
The Knights rallied from that early hole to take a 16-14 lead after 1, and then ran away with it with big plays in the second, including two highlight-reel dunks by Josh Fitzgerald. Newman led 35-25 at half.
St. Ansgar pulled to within five points, down 44-39 in the third, but could get no closer as the Knights’ depth once again shined in the run-away victory.
“Coming into the season we knew what we had for talent; it’s putting it together, and tonight the boys played as a team again,” Newman coach Jerry Gatton said. “They’ve done it many times, but tonight might have been the best. All we said was ‘Just bring it. Do what you have to do and good will come,’ and that’s all it was.”
Brady Gatton paced the Knights with 15 points, Fausnaugh finished with 14 points and drained four 3-pointers, and Fitzgerald tossed in 13.
St. Ansgar’s Collin Kramer led all scorers with 21 points and Jack Sievert added 10.
Newman finished its conference season with a 13-3 record, and will play Forest City, which shared for the TIC West title on Tuesday.
With tournament time right around the corner, the Knights will celebrate the conference title and get right back to work, sticking with the focus that got them to this point.
“It’s one game at a time right now and that’s how we’re approaching everything,” Gatton said.