Mater Dei's Harrison Butler tries to drive but is met by Foothills Christian's Omajae Smith in the CIF SoCal Open Division Regionals.

Mater Dei season ends with stale effort


SANTA ANA – Mater Dei’s boys basketball team had its season end Friday with a 50-46 loss to Foothills Christian of El Cajon in a CIF Southern California Open Division Regionals first-round game.

Mater Dei finished 27-5. The Monarchs concluded the season with back-to-back defeats, including a 102-54 loss to Chino Hills in the CIF-SS Open Division semifinals.

Foothills Christian (25-4) plays at nationally top-ranked Chino Hills (32-0) in the semifinals Tuesday.

Foothills Christian 6-foot-10 senior T.J. Leaf, a UCLA signee, scored 21 points with 16 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.

“He’s one of the best players we’ve seen this year,” Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight said. “He can go inside, outside. He’s a tremendous player.”

When Mater Dei beat Foothills Christian, 61-53, at the Nike Extravaganza last month, Leaf scored 27 points.

The Monarchs shot 30 percent from the floor and were 10 for 18 at the free-throw line.

Sophomore point guard Spencer Freedman led Mater Dei with 18 points on 7-for-17 shooting and 4 for 13 on 3-pointers. Monarchs junior Justice Sueing scored 10 points.

Mater Dei 6-10 senior MJ Cage had a team-high seven rebounds, but was held to two points on 1-for-7 shooting.

McKnight was unhappy with his team’s offensive output but liked the defensive effort.

“Fifty points,” he said, noting the opposing team’s total. “Usually we win those games.”

Mater Dei trailed, 34-30, going into the fourth quarter. Freedman opened the quarter with a 3-pointer, but that was a close as the Monarchs would get.

Leaf took over in crunch time. He scored nine fourth-quarter points.

McKnight said the 14 days between the loss to Chino Hills and Friday’s game created a problem.

“With two weeks off,” he said, “this felt like the first game of the year. Two weeks sitting around is too much. We got stale.”

There are many more weeks between Friday’s game and Mater Dei’s 2016-17 season opener. McKnight intends to be coaching that game, which would start his 35th season.

McKnight said, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Foothills Christian is going to face the No. 1 team in the nation, Chino Hills.

“We know we can beat them, too,” Leaf said. “It’ll be a fun game.”

Chino Hills beat Immanuel of Reedley, 103-71, in an Open Division first-round game Friday, the Huskies’ fifth consecutive game scoring 100 or more points. UCLA-signee Lonzo Ball scored 36 points for Chino Hills.

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