Top-ranked Mater Dei girls headed south on Monday night for all-night bus ride after dispatching St. Mary’s of Stockton in Platinum Division final of West Coast Jamboree.
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As Mater Dei of Santa Ana girls basketball coach Kevin Kiernan was getting settled into his seat along with the rest of his team and assistants for a long bus ride home on Monday night from Livermore, he had one more task to complete in the aftermath of an 81-72 win over St. Mary’s of Stockton in the championship game of the West Coast Jamboree’s Platinum Division.
“Sure, we can talk,” he told Cal-Hi Sports. “It’s been tiring the last few weeks.”
It’s also been successful. The travel began just before Christmas to the elite Nike Tournament of Champions in Chandler, Ariz., where the Monarchs took top honors in the top division with a victory over CIF Southern Section rival Long Beach Poly.
This latest trip took the team to the West Coast Jamboree where Mater Dei might have thought beforehand that its title tilt in the top division was going to be against Malcolm X. Shabazz of Newark, N.J., which came westward as the No. 4 team in the nation in one poll.
Instead, the Monarchs (No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 2 in the nation by MaxPreps) ended up facing three top Northern California teams in a row. Both the semifinal game against Carondelet of Concord (played last Saturday) and the final against St. Mary’s had plenty of anxious moments, including a 44-35 deficit at halftime against the Rams.
“I said at the beginning of the season that we have to play a schedule like this that can help us at the end,” said Kiernan, whose team improved to 11-0. “It’s going to be stiff competition for us in the new (CIFSS) Open Division just to get there. We were on the road tonight against a great team that was more at home. It was a great experience.”
Unfortunately for St. Mary’s, Mater Dei junior standout Katie Lou Samuelson also had many hometown connections inside the Las Positas College gym. Both of her sisters, Bonnie and Karlie, who are currently playing at Stanford, were there. Karlie actually had to sheepishly approach press row at one point before the game when her lost cell phone was turned in. Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer also checked out the game.
Samuelson, as she did in all of her games at the Jamboree, heated up in the third quarter. She began the Mater Dei comeback by hitting on a pair of three-pointers and then helped break the St. Mary’s press, setting up sophomore teammate Alli Rosenblum for seven straight points. When Samuelson hit another three, the Monarchs had taken a 55-52 lead.
St. Mary’s had the score at 63-62 early in the fourth quarter and could have retaken the lead on two straight possessions. Neither shot fell, then the Monarchs closed out the Rams with a 14-3 run.
“If you would have said we’d have a nine-point lead and then they went into a zone after halftime, I would take that every time,” said St. Mary’s head coach Tom Gonsalves, whose team fell to 9-3 but should remain among the top-ranked teams in the state. “We just missed six straight three-pointers and they got back into it.”
Both Gonsalves and Kiernan said that Mater Dei’s defense couldn’t stop the dribble penetration of the St. Mary’s guards. Then when in the zone, the Mater Dei defense also was able to put just enough pressure on the St. Mary’s shooters.
Samuelson was the tourney MVP and finished with 35 points and 17 rebounds. Rosenblum had a career-best 27 points with five rebounds while sophomore guard Andee Velasco also played well against the press. She only scored six points, but handed out 11 assists.
For St. Mary’s, Arizona-bound Charisse Holloway battled inside throughout the game and led the way with 21 points and six rebounds. She was backed up by Jim Capoot Memorial Award winner Bri Moore with 16 points, five steals and four assists and Kat Tudor with 12 points (all on three-pointers).
Mater Dei still has a trip coming up later in January to the Hoophall Hall of Fame Game in Springfield, Mass., and obviously hopes to be back up in Northern California in March for the CIF Open Division state final.
In the third-place game at the West Coast Jamboree:
Carondelet (Concord) 81, Salesian (Richmond) 70
After falling behind 44-36 at halftime, Salesian went on a 14-3 run to start the third quarter. It was followed, however, by a 12-1 run by the Cougars that ended the period and that was the difference in the game.
While Carondelet’s guard tandem of Natalie Romeo and Makenzie Cast once again led the way, in that crucial third quarter run it was three free throws by Christina Chenault and two baskets by Gabriella Grupalo that primarily pushed the lead to 59-51.
Salesian, which fell to 6-4 after opening the tourney with a big win over Shabazz, was the superior team on the inside. Six-foot-3 center Zoe Correal had 21 points and 15 rebounds. Louisville-bound Mariya Moore had a triple-double with 14 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
Carondelet, which improved to 9-2 with its losses coming only to Mater Dei and New York No. 1 team Brooklyn Nazareth, received 24 points from Cast and 23 from Romeo. They helped the Cougars shoot 11 of 19 from beyond the three-point line.
Malcolm X. Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) 60, Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 37
The East Coast girls finally found their stride at the expense of the Irish girls from San Francisco, leading from the first basket to the final horn.
Shabazz (3-1) got a game-high 20 points from Georgia Tech-bound Zaire O’Neill. DeAshia Jones added 17 points.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (5-4) was led by Gabrielle Vigil with nine points.
O’Neill and Jones were all-tournament for Shabazz while University of Pacific-bound GeAnna Summers-Luaulu was selected from Sacred Heart Cathedral.
The victory was No. 690 for 31-year Shabazz head coach Vanessa Watson.
Seventh Place Game:
Berkeley 51, Sacramento 42
Two perennial Northern California powerhouses that felt the depth of the Platinum Division met and it was Berkeley (7-4) leading from start to finish.
University of Pacific-bound Desire Finnie led the Yellowjackets with 14 points and was named All-Tournament.
The woes continued for a Sacramento team that has now gone through both the Nike TOC and Jamboree without a win. The Dragons were led by All-Tournament selection Aliceah Hernandez.
Harold Abend also contributed to this report and is a member of the West Coast Jamboree Board of Directors. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend