Monarchs capture their second straight CIF Southern Section Open Division title with an overtime win over Centennial of Corona on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by junior Lani White. Showdown matchups involving the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state and with both sporting unbeaten records don’t always live up to the hype. This one clearly did.
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The buzz among the assembled local Southern California media on Thursday evening in Corona was that this year’s CIF Southern Section Open Division championship may very well have been the best title game ever in the Southern Section’s top girls division – and it’s pretty hard to argue that it wasn’t.
The score was tied 80-80 with 29.4 seconds left in overtime, and Cal-Hi Sports’ top-ranked Mater Dei (Santa Ana) had the final possession, but although the final shot of the game wasn’t taken by Monarchs’ star Brooke Demetre, she still found a way to help seal the win.
With the ball in her hands, and with top-seeded and No. 2 ranked Centennial defenders blanketing her and trapping her as the clock ran down, it was looking like there would be a second extra period. But Demetre, a 6-foot-3 Stanford-bound McDonald’s All-American and solid candidate for Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, kicked it out to an open Lani White and she launched a three-point shot at the buzzer that touched nothing but net, and Mater Dei had an 83-80 come-from-behind overtime victory.
“We tell the girls in practice the ball will find the open person if you’re willing to move it, and it found the open person,” remarked Mater Dei head coach Kevin Kiernan. “We didn’t force anything, Brooke could have forced it, but we found the open person and to Lani’s credit that’s a heck of a shot.”
White, a 5-foot-11 junior who comes off the bench, and who Kiernan called “a bundle of energy,” finished with 17 points, five rebounds and three steals. She made three 3-pointers, all after halftime, one in the third quarter, one in the fourth, and the one that broke the back of the host Huskies.
Despite not getting the game-winning basket, Demetre came up with a gigantic performance and finished with a huge double-double 28 points (three 3-pointers) and 16 rebounds, with three blocks and two assists, with the most important assist coming in the final sequence. Of her totals, 20 points and nine rebounds came in the first half when some of her teammates started out a little slow and she was playing like a girl possessed.
“The key for us was everyone getting involved,” Demetre said in her usual humble manner. “In the second half, they knew I was on fire so they kind of closed in on me. Other people stepping up was really important with the prime example Lani at the end. They were tight on me to get that shot and Lani was wide open and she came up clutch.
“It was just us trusting each other,” Demetre continued. “We’ve been going at it for 10 months, it’s been a long season with hard work every day, and it translated to that trust on the floor.”
“This was the weirdest year ever,” commented Kiernan. “We were a microcosm of overcoming adversity just like the rest of the country.”
Two other Monarchs were in double-figure scoring. Caia Elisaldez had an outstanding game. The sophomore point guard went toe to toe with the talented Centennial backcourt. She finished with 16 points, eight assists, four rebounds and two steals. Nevada Las Vegas-bound senior Alyssa Durazo-Frescas was bothered by the Centennial defense in the first half and only had four points at halftime, but down the stretch she was clutch and finished with 12 points with two second half three-pointers. Her trey ball with 40.4 seconds left in overtime gave Mater Dei an 80-78 lead.
As the buzzer sounded, pandemonium broke out among the Mater Dei players and their vocal group of fans, while the Centennial faithful and its players and coaches sat silently in shock and disbelief after losing a game in which they led most of the way.
Centennial bolted out to an 11-4 lead but Mater Dei fought back to tie it at 13-13 before sophomore Sydni Summers hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Huskies a 16-13 lead after one quarter.
Mater Dei (16-0 not including forfeits) took its first lead at 34-33 on two free throws by Elisaldez with 2:20 left in the half, but lost it on the next possession and at one point the Monarchs trailed 56-46 late in the third quarter.
The visitors didn’t take a second lead until White made it 65-64 on a three-pointer with 3:30 left in regulation. From there, Centennial went on a 7-0 run to lead 71-65 but the Monarchs closed with a 6-0 run culminating on a basket by Demetre with an assist from Elisaldez to send it to overtime.
The visitors scored the first four points in OT but Centennial fought hard and two free-throws by Jayda Curry tied it at 80-80 and set the stage for White’s heroics.
Londynn Jones, a UCLA-committed junior guard, was team-high for Centennial with 25 points on three 3-pointers. The Cal-bound Curry finished with 24 points, six assists and four steals. Junior Layla Curry, Jayda’s little sister, played very well on both ends of the court and finished with 17 points and nine rebounds.
Cal Baptist-bound Trinity San Antonio was charged with guarding Demetre in the first half and got help from Layla Curry after halftime. She left with cramps with 1:26 remaining in the game but not before getting a near double-double nine points and nine rebounds.
Some things that were not in Centennial’s favor is that only its five starters scored, and this was the first close game the Huskies have had with the closest previous game a 15-point win over Anaheim Fairmont Prep.
“They hadn’t played a close game pretty much all year and we felt if we could stay close maybe we could steal it at the end,” Kiernan said.
“For us to come in here and play the way we did, and win at the buzzer against a great team, and they’re a great team and deserved to be the No. 1 seed, is a testament to our girls,” Kiernan continued. “This was big girl basketball and a heck of a game between two great teams.”
With the victory, No. 2 seed Mater Dei won its second-straight CIF Southern Section Open Division championship and the sixth for Kiernan between Mater Dei and Troy of Fullerton.
Centennial (22-1) now almost assuredly will be the No. 2 seed behind Mater Dei when the CIF announces its seeds on Sunday for next week’s Southern Regional Open Division playoffs
“The positives from this game is we played our worst game of the season on both ends of the floor and lost to a great team in overtime by three at the buzzer,” said Centennial head coach Martin Woods.
Woods and his girls will be itching to get another shot at Mater Dei and barring an upset they should meet in the SoCal Open title game.
“We are looking forward to playing whoever is across from us,” Woods continued. “We’ll play whoever, wherever, whenever.”
Mater Dei has a lot of depth and three other girls may have been in double-figure scoring but when all is said and done it still boils down to Demetre, who for the second time this season against a state-ranked opponent took things into her own hands in a road win over a top-notch state-ranked opponent. Previously Brooke had 31 points, eight rebounds and four assists in a 67-64 win at No. 12 Cathedral Catholic.
“Brooke is a stud. Every accolade she gets is well deserved,” Kiernan remarked. “We asked her to do a lot today, rebound, play defense, score, and they beat on her the entire game. But in the end she was the ultimate teammate. These girls have been here before and like Brooke they know they can’t do it alone and that was evident tonight.”
The good news for Mater Dei fans is Demetre has changed her mind about playing in the Southern Regionals. She was originally going to leave for Stanford next week to get ready for college despite the fact the team was going to play in the regionals even if she was missing.
“I’m supposed to move in on the 19th but I’m going to play (next week),” Demetre said. “CIF (Southern Section) has always been a big deal for us but I want to play next week and help this team win. Hopefully, we’ll go all the way.”
For Kiernan, who will enter the first round of the Southern Regionals with a state all-time leading 821 career coaching victories (not including four forfeit wins this season), it will be a chance to do what the Monarchs could not do last year after they won the Southern Section Open Division, and that is to win a CIF SoCal title. Last season, the Monarchs were upset in the SoCal playoffs by Long Beach Poly.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend