With four straight CIF state titles in the highest classification, the Monarchs will now get to try for five after they defeat Fairfax 51-40 in the SoCal Open Division championship. Go inside here for recaps of all of the SoCal boys championship games both from Long Beach and Ontario. Other winners were Chino Hills (D1), La Mirada (D2), Damien (D3), Crespi (D4) and Sierra Canyon (D5).
Note: Editor Mark Tennis wrote up the games from Colony High in Ontario (through press reports and game boxes faxed to Sacramento).
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Some long time prep scribes felt the graduation loss of Cal-Hi Sports 2014 Mr. Basketball Stanley Johnson (Arizona) would be too much to overcome in Mater Dei’s drive for a fifth consecutive state title in the CIF’s highest classification.
What they forgot, however, is when good players gain experience playing with a great player, they often step up after he’s no longer around. That has been the case with this particular Mater Dei team. With its 16th win in a SoCal regional final game, the Monarchs are one victory away from an unprecedented fifth consecutive CIF state title.
The Monarchs will once again play Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland in the CIF Open Division state title game next Saturday evening. Last year, Mater Dei (29-4) defeated the Dragons as Johnson won his fourth CIF state title.
“Last year, we had a better player, but we might be a better team this year,” said Gary McKnight, the state’s all-time winnigest coach who will be attempting to add to his state record of 11 CIF state titles next weekend. “Last year, Stanley could dominate the ball at times, but the five guys we have out there now are weapons. Don’t get me wrong; I would love to have Stanley right now. Right now, we don’t have the best player.”
Fairfax (32-3) was attempting to advance to its first CIF state final since 2007, but a poor shooting night, combined with the absence of junior shooting guard Donald Gipson, spelled doom for the Lions.
Fairfax, the L.A. City Section Open Division champions, shot 31 percent from the field and made only 3-of-20 on 3-point field goal attempts. The Lions scored five points in the second quarter and trailed 31-13 at halftime.
Despite the anemic shooting, Fairfax still had its opportunities but just couldn’t get over the hump. The main thorn in the Lions’ side was Mater Dei senior guard La’Vette Parker. Just before the end of the third period, Fairfax had a 3-pointer rim in and out that would have cut its deficit to five points. On the other end, the unsigned senior nailed a jumper to make the score 36-26 entering the fourth period.
With Fairfax trialing by 10 points, Parker hit a dagger 3-pointer with 1:16 remaining in the game to send the Monarchs on their way to an O’Dowd rematch.
Parker finished with 16 points, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers. Rex Pflueger, bound for Notre Dame, led all scorers with 23 points. He made 3-of-6 from long range and finished the game strong after an ankle injury scare kept him out of action for a portion of the third period. Mater Dei connected on 9-of-18 from beyond the arc in all.
Lindsey Drew, the likely L.A. City Section Player of the Year, led Fairfax with 17 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals. Senior Isaiah Ajiboye made two of Fairfax’s three 3-pointers and finished with 14 points.
After Mater Dei lost three players to the Pac-12 Conference following Johnson’s sophomore year, the thought of Mater Dei winning two more consecutive CIF state titles seemed remote. After his junior year, it seemed a Mater Dei title run was more of a coronation than a goal.
This season, however, the preseason thoughts of Mater Dei winning its fifth in a row seemed more of a reach than the title in 2012-13. The Monarchs are now one win away from doing just that.
In other SoCal boys finals played at The Pyramid:
Division I: Chino Hills 62, Centennial (Corona) 51
In a rematch of last year’s SoCal D1 final, the team with the hot hand coming in ran into a team looking for revenge from last year’s heartbreaking overtime loss.
The team with the hot hand, Centennial of Corona, hadn’t been in many close games in recent weeks and got off to a quick start against Chino Hills. Centennial led 20-11 after one period, but Chino Hills’ determination, ability to clog passing lanes and the unique ability of junior guard Lonzo Ball propelled the Huskies to their first CIF state final in program history.
Chino Hills (24-7*) took a lead it would never relinquish courtesy of a 14-0 run that gave the Huskies a 23-22 lead with 2:58 remaining in the second period. Chino Hills led 32-28 at halftime and 45-34 entering the final period.
Centennial (25-6), which entered the game ranked No. 8 overall in the state one spot ahead of Chino Hills, had trouble getting the ball inside to junior pivot Ike Anigbogu after he made 3-of-4 field goal attempts in the first quarter.
Centennial threw passes to players not ready for the catch, passed to players out of position, or from bad angles, and Chino Hills also did an excellent job of getting in the passing lanes or getting its hands on delivered passes. Anigbogu, sophomore center Jalen Hill and forward Kyle Hamilton had 11 turnovers between them. Centennial had 18 as a team compared to eight for Chino Hills.
Ball had five of those for Chino Hills, but it paled in comparison to his contributions. He finished with 26 points on 8-of-20 shooting, 15 rebounds, five assists and eight steals. His determination on the boards, his timely buckets and ability to demoralize an opponent with his pin-point passing and feel was just too much for even a team as talented as Centennial to overcome.
Season leading scorer Sedrick Barefield (8 points), guard Khalil Ahmad (5 points), Anigbogu (10 points) and elite defender Chris Famous all fouled out. All of them had a hand in trying to slow down Ball. Centennial coach Josh Giles pointed to Famous playing just five minutes as a critical factor in the game’s outcome.
“They erased that nine-point first quarter lead pretty quickly,” Giles said. “We had a lot of turnovers in the high post. In the second quarter, we also took too long to get past half court and get into our offense against their press.”
Ball’s younger brother, sophomore Li’Angelo Ball, was Chino Hills’ other double-digit scorer with 21 points.
“After the first quarter, we knew we had to pick it up,” Li’Angelo Ball said. “We had to play hard defense and push it from there.”
“Most definitely last year’s game was motivation,” Lonzo Ball said. “I knew that feeling and I didn’t want to feel that way again.”
La Mirada 49 Lawndale 40
As a school, La Mirada has had quality teams in multiple sports in both genders, but with the advent of the CIF open division, it gave the Matadors a perfect opportunity to play for a CIF state title and they took full advantage.
Wing Vittorio Reynoso-Avila and rugged senior forwards Dezmon Murphy and Kendall Lauderdale combined for 35 of La Mirada’s 49 points. Including Reynoso-Avila, guards accounted for the first 23 points of the game for La Mirada (30-5).
“We had high hopes in the preseason,” said Reynoso-Avila, who netted a game-high 14 points and 13 rebounds. “I felt it was a perfect opportunity to go to state.”
Lawndale (23-12) took a 26-29 halftime lead after Brandon Newman hit a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining in the second quarter. It didn’t turn out to be a good omen, as the Cardinals went cold in the second half.
Lawndale scored two points in the third period and nine points in the final period, as the Matadors outscored their opponent 23-11 after intermission.
It was the second time in two weeks that Lawndale had a snake-bitten second half. The Cardinals gave up a 28-point lead in the second half and lost in the CIF Southern Section 2-AA title game to Canyon of Anaheim.
“I thought we played efficient defense, we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” said Lawndale head coach Chris Brownlee. “After halftime, we came into a stalemate.”
USC-bound power forward Chimezie Metu had eight points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals for Lawndale, who didn’t have a double-digit scorer. Shorter La Mirada out-rebounded the taller Cardinals, 40-35.
“We didn’t shoot great on the offensive end, but we really made up for it on the defensive end,” La Mirada head coach Bryce Jones said. “We felt prepared defensively.”
In SoCal boys finals played at Colony High (all breakdowns by Mark Tennis):
Damien (La Verne) 68, Cathedral (Los Angeles) 62
Just a few hours after Baseline League rival Chino Hills won the SoCal D1 title in Long Beach, the Spartans did the same in D3 in Ontario.
Damien, which actually won the Baseline League title due to going 2-0 against Chino Hills and 1-1 against CIF Southern Section Open Division finalist Etiwanda in league games, took a 30-21 lead at halftime and had to hang on for the victory.
It is a good sign for the Spartans heading into the state final that their best player, senior Jeremy Hemsley, didn’t have a strong outing for him and yet they still won. Hemsley still scored 17 points, but teammates Bryce Peters (20 points) and Malik Fitts (15 points) certainly picked him up.
Both teams entered the game with more than solid State Top 20 rankings: Cathedral (22-8) was No. 7 and Damien (28-5) was No. 13.
And for NorCal fans who may not have heard about Damien, keep in mind that the Spartans posted a solid win over NorCal Open Division semifinalist Folsom in a December tournament.
The Phantoms continued to make strides this season under head coach William Middlebrooks, but came up short against Damien. They got a game-high 23 points from UCLA-bound junior Kobe Paras. Milan Acquaah contributed 17 points, but he made only four of 21 shots from the field.
Crespi (Encino) 58, Campbell Hall (North Hollywood) 54
A one-two punch of Mitch Mykhaylov and De’Anthony Melton helped the Celts punch their ticket to next week’s D4 state final in Berkeley.
Mykhayhov, a 6-foot-6 junior, had 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting and had 11 rebounds for Crespi, which improved to 28-7 and earned its first SoCal regional title. Melton, who also is a junior but plays guard, had 21 points and seven rebounds.
The loss spelled the end of an era at Campbell Hall as senior Aaron Holiday played his final game. Holiday, who is headed to UCLA, scored a game-high 24 points but only made 6-of-23 shots from the field.
Holiday is the youngest of four siblings who have all starred at Campbell Hall for many years. He follows older brothers Justin (now playing for the Golden State Warriors) & Jrue (the 2008 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year now playing for the New Orleans Pelicans) and older sister Lauren (she followed Justin & Jrue and also was an all-state player).
Campbell Hall wrapped up a 28-10 season.
Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 70, Price (Los Angeles) 44
Most thought before this bracket got underway that the Trailblazers would have difficulty with either Price or league rival Windward. Didn’t happen. They led 25-8 after the first quarter and cruised to earn the program’s first CIF state final appearance.
Remy Martin topped Sierra Canyon (25-4) with 19 points. Three others were in double figures – Adam Seiko (16), Cody Riley (14) and Devearl Ramsey (11).
Donnell Murray netted 14 points for Price (23-8), which was trying to advance to its ninth state final under head coach Michael Lynch.
The Trailblazers, who have been as high as No. 2 overall in the state this season and are No. 30 in the nation in this week’s GrassrootsHoops.net FAB 50, will be gigantic favorites in next week’s D5 state final against University of San Francisco.