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Mater Dei keeps alive its drive for five
REDONDO BEACH – MJ Cage was the star, but every Monarch who played contributed to Mater Dei’s 65-59 win over Bishop Montgomery of Torrance on Wednesday in the CIF Southern California Regionals Open Division semifinals for boys basketball.
Bailey Stout made two 3-pointers and threw a couple of expertly placed lob passes for Cage dunks. La’vette Parker provided most of the early scoring and finished with a game-high 21 points, and KJ Smith made a couple of clutch baskets. Rex Pflueger played outstanding defense, spending much of the night guarding Bishop Montgomery’s Oregon State-signed star guard Stevie Thompson Jr.
Cage’s input: 14 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
The Monarchs’ quest for a fifth straight state championship continues Saturday. Mater Dei (28-4) plays Fairfax of Los Angeles (32-2) in the regionals final at 8 p.m. at Walter Pyramid on Long Beach State’s campus.
Mater Dei beat Fairfax, 47-34, last month in the Nike Extravaganza at Mater Dei.
It was only the second loss of the season for Bishop Montgomery (31-2), which won the CIF-Southern Section Open Division championship. The Knights had won 23 in a row going into Wednesday.
All of Cage’s blocks were either ferocious or spectacular or both. The 6-foot-10 junior acknowledged he played with more edge than usual. He even showed a bit of a sneer after one block.
“In the playoffs I get more intense,” Cage said. “It’s fun. I get more competitive during the playoffs so you will see me get more emotional out there.”
That’s fine with Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight.
“Cage arguably is the best player around,” McKnight said. “The things he can do: block shots, rebound, score.”
Only six Monarchs played – the starting five of Cage, Parker, Pflueger, Smith, Stout, and freshman Harrison Butler came off the bench to play six minutes – and the coach was happy with all six of them.
“I told the guys before the game,” McKnight said, “‘Is MJ going to carry us or this guy going to carry us? No, everybody needs to step up and contribute to this win.’”
Bishop Montgomery led only once, 12-10, late in the first quarter. Mater Dei took a 16-14 lead into the second quarter, was ahead, 34-28, at halftime and brought a 47-39 lead into the fourth quarter. The Monarchs’ smallest lead of the fourth quarter was five points.
Parker scored nine of Mater Dei’s 18 fourth-quarter points, including four free throws in the final 21 seconds. Smith made two drives early in the quarter to keep Mater Dei comfortably ahead.
Mater Dei made 24 of 53 shots (45 percent) and made seven of 19 3-point shots. Parker, Smith and Stout made two 3s apiece.
Christian Oshita and Thompson led Bishop Montgomery with 15 points each. With Pflueger, Stout and Butler taking turns guarding him, Thompson was 6 for 17 from the field overall and 0 for 6 on 3-pointers.
Mater Dei lost to Etiwanda in the CIF-SS Open Division semifinals. If the Monarchs beat Fairfax on Saturday and then win the CIF State Open Division championship game, it would be the fifth time in the past eight years they did not win a CIF-SS title but did win a CIF State title.
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