LA South and Orange County: Mater Dei 72, Long Beach Poly 55

LONG BEACH -- In the eyes of Katin Reinhardt, this is how things should have played out last week in Anaheim.

This was what he had pictured: Mater Dei walking off the court with the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA trophy, championship hats and T-shirts, smiles and tears.

A second-half meltdown in the semifinals cost Reinhardt and the Monarchs a chance to prove themselves against the top-seeded Jackrabbits at Anaheim Arena. Mater Dei got its second chance and made the most of its opportunity Saturday night, shocking top-seeded Poly, 72-55, at Long Beach City College. The fourth-seeded Monarchs advanced to the CIF State Southern California Division 1 Regional title game next Saturday at Galen Center. They will face Corona Centennial, the team that eliminated them from sectionals last week.

"This is how it should have been in the CIF championship," he said. "We should have got a CIF championship. We regrouped. Now we want to win a state title."

Saturday night was exactly how Reinhardt imagined it, but not how he drew it up.

The Monarchs (30-3) assumed a 28-27 lead at halftime thanks to a dizzying second quarter, outscoring Poly 22-8 after falling behind, 19-6, at the end of the first.

Poly (31-2) was sharp out of the gate, opening on a 13-1 run while drawing five fouls. Mater Dei appeared flustered, forcing a heated coach Gary McKnight to call a timeout to sort things through. The Monarchs were 0 for 8 to start and didn't get their first field goal until six and a half minutes in on a Reinhardt jumper. It was their only make of the first quarter.

But then, suddenly, something changed.

"Our guys battled back," McKnight said. "They didn't want to get embarrassed."

The tables had turned, particularly on the defensive end. The Monarchs used five different looks, McKnight said, and mixed in a half-court trap, confusing Poly and rattling a starting five that included four seniors.

"We threw everything we had at them," McKnight said.

The Jackrabbits had made eight shots in the opening quarter but were limited to two in the second. It was Mater Dei which stormed into the locker room on a high. Poly's contingent was stunned, the green-clad crowd deflated.

"That had to play head games with Poly," McKnight said. "It had to cause problems."

Mater Dei had problems of its own, as standout forward Xavier Johnson -- the only player big enough to contest Poly's Ryan Anderson -- was plagued with foul trouble throughout. But the Monarchs made their runs without him. Johnson picked up his third foul with 3:47 remaining in the first half and Mater Dei went on an 11-4 spurt.

Johnson was whistled for his fourth foul midway through the third quarter. To the bench he went again with the game knotted, 37-37. The Monarchs closed out the third on a 15-9 run, leading 52-46 to begin the fourth.

"I wasn't worried at all," Johnson said. "We have a great team, a great group. We're all connected as one."

He fouled out with 4:05 left in the game, finishing with 15 points, but that didn't matter. Reinhardt (21 points) and Co. had done enough -- the Monarchs extended their advantage by holding Poly scoreless for the first five minutes of the fourth.

The Jackrabbits didn't help themselves at the line, making just nine of 22 free throws. They were 4 for 13 in the second half.

"Free-throw shooting has always been our Achilles' heel," Poly guard Alexis Moore said. "Tonight, it kind of got exposed. It's hard when you go down and can't make two free throws."

It was a bittersweet ending for Poly, which a week earlier had captured the program's first CIF crown in seven years. The Jackrabbits had expectations and realistic hopes of winning a state title, something that hasn't been accomplished at Poly since 1984.

"That was our biggest goal," Moore said. "That was a goal that we could have attained. You've got to tip your cap off to Mater Dei."