Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly will meet in highly-anticipated CIF Southern Section Division I-AA final in a match up of state's two top-ranked teams.
Anaheim, Calif. -- The boys basketball team at Etiwanda (Etiwanda, Calif.) steadily climbed in the POWERADE FAB 50 rankings by utilizing the most steady aspect of the game -- a vice grip man-to-man defense.
Despite not starting a player taller than 6-foot-4, the No. 32 Eagles rolled into their CIF Southern Section semifinal showdown with No. 17 Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) riding a 26-game winning streak behind consistent defensive efforts. Facing California's No. 2-ranked team, Etiwanda ran into a bigger, more athletic unit that played a great brand of defense of its own.
Poly used that size advantage, some timely free throw shooting and two big blocks down the stretch to record a 56-47 victory and hand Etiwanda its second loss of the season.
With the win, Poly (27-1) put itself in position to defend the section title it won last year and continued its post-season mastery of Etiwanda (29-2). The Jackrabbits defeated Etiwanda twice in the post-season last year and have beaten Etiwanda four times in their last five post-season encounters.
"We came into this game with a 29-1 record and this loss does not diminish what the kids have done this year," Etiwanda coach Dave Kleckner said. "We just got out muscled on the boards and ran out of gas. It just seems like against Poly we can't get over that hump."
Poly out-rebounded Etiwanda 42-23 and the defending CIFSS Div. I-AA champions also helped themselves at the charity stripe. They made 17-of-25 in the game and doing the most damage was junior forward Roschon Prince. Etiwanda didn't have anyone who could match up with him physically and in the fourth quarter the Eagles had no choice but to foul him to keep within striking distance.
Poly led 37-31 after three periods and Prince nailed 11-of-14 free throws over the final eight minutes. For the game, he made 14-of-19 and finished with a game-high 22 points.
"As much as Prince gets fouled, he knows how important it is to make his free throws," Poly coach Sharrief Metoyer said. "He knows he lets the team down when he doesn't make them. Over the summer, he worked on becoming a better free throw shooter and you see the results now."
Etiwanda sophomore point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who the Poly coaching staff was quite impressed with on film coming into the game, finished with a team-high 17 points after a slow start. Every time he or a teammate made a shot in the fourth quarter to pull Etiwanda within four points, Poly junior Jordan Bell came up with a big blocked shot.
Etiwanda, which came in ranked No. 4 in the state, trailed 43-39 with four minutes remaining when Bell swatted a shot. With 1:52 remaining, he trailed McLaughlin on a play but was able to block his shot with his left hand right as the apex of its arc. Bell subsequently made a field goal with 1:23 remaining to give Poly a 51-45 cushion and Etiwanda could get no closer.
"Not really, I didn't think it was coming down [for a goal tend]," said Bell, who finished with nine points, 12 rebounds and seven blocked shots. "I got to it before then and just ran back on offense."
Xavier Johnson dunk sparks Mater Dei victory
Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), the state's top-ranked team and the No. 8 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, was in a struggle with upset-minded Loyola (Los Angeles) in Tuesday's second CIFSS Division I-AA semifinal.
The clubs went back and forth offensively and Mater Dei held a two point lead (30-28) at halftime. In the third quarter, Loyola seized momentum with back-to-back 3-pointers by Khaliq Bedart-Ghani and Jacob Hazzard to take a 43-35 lead with 4:37 in third quarter.
Moments later, Loyola took a 45-35 lead on a basket by Julian Harrell, but a powerful slam dunk by Xavier Johnson right before the third quarter buzzer on which he was fouled sparked Mater Dei's 61-58 come-from-behind victory.
"Xavier's and-one was an energizer...it gave us a lift right away," said Mater Dei sophomore Stanley Johnson, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. "When we got back in the huddle, we told ourselves we got to go for it now and we got it done."
With Loyola (24-5) in possession and leading by five points (48-43) in the third quarter, reserve Max Hazzard took an ill-advised jumper with 16 seconds on the game clock. Mater Dei (28-2) took advantage, as Xavier Johnson's slam dunk occurred with 5.6 seconds remaining in the period. He canned the free throw, so instead of Loyola leading by five or seven points entering the final period, all of a sudden Mater Dei trailed 48-46.
"All we had to do was play hard and not let up," said Xavier Johnson, who finished with game-highs of 23 points and 10 rebounds. "I have great teammates and tonight we were getting the ball to the open man."
Loyola, behind clutch shooting from point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, still had ample chances to pull out the win. The elusive sophomore guard nailed a 3-pointer with 2:23 remaining to pull Loyola with two points (57-55). He then canned another triple with 28 seconds remaining in the game to cut Loyola's deficit to a single point (59-58), but with 16 seconds remaining, Xavier Johnson made two free throws to account for the final margin.
Jackson-Cartwright finished with a team-high 17 points for Loyola, which entered the game ranked No. 10 in the state and No. 18 in the West Region rankings.
Mater Dei guard Katin Reinhardt made amends for his poor offensive showing (10 points, eight turnovers) by blocking a 3-point attempt by Loyola's Jacob Hazzard that could have potentially tied the game in the closing seconds. Loyola got the rebound, but a last-second desperation heave didn't come close.
"I wasn't playing good on offense, so I had to play good defense and I got the block right at the right time," Reinhardt said.
With the win, Mater Dei will face Long Beach Poly in a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams by Cal-Hi Sports. Mater Dei's last loss to a California program came in this same section semifinal game last season, when the Monarchs lost to Centennial (Corona, Calif.) 60-58 before bouncing back to win the CIF Division I state title.