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Mater Dei tops LB Poly for 1AA title
ANAHEIM – Mater Dei boys basketball coach Gary McKnight couldn't watch. There were still three seconds remaining and it was still a one-possession game, but what he'd just witnessed was all too much for him.
Sophomore forward Stanley Johnson had just missed his fourth free throw in 68 seconds, prompting an exasperated McKnight to sit back in his chair and stare toward the ceiling, his arms spread out.
“I was looking up at a lot of my friends in Heaven, saying, 'Please help me right now,'” McKnight said.
Then Johnson helped McKnight, again.
Johnson, who also had a rebound, steal and two free throws during a chaotic finish, knocked down another free throw to seal another CIF section championship for the Monarchs.
Mater Dei beat Long Beach Poly, 63-59, in the CIF-SS Division 1AA final at Anaheim Convention Center on Saturday.
“The team is expected to win,” McKnight said. "When you wear that on your back every night, it's really tough. There's a bull's-eye. I'm really proud how they've worn that shield.
The Monarchs claimed their 21st section championship in 26 championship appearances during McKnight's 30-year tenure, and second 1AA title in three years.
“I've always believed the CIF championship is the biggest game,” McKnight said. “This is the high point. I don't get tired of these.”
Last year, a younger Mater Dei team was eliminated in the section semifinals before upsetting the Jackrabbits in the semifinals of the Southern California Regionals. This year Mater Dei (29-2) and Poly (27-2) were not only the top two teams in the 1AA bracket but also the state.
It was the latest chapter in a long-standing rivalry that dates to at least 1983 --- McKnight's first season --- when the two teams squared off in the section finals for the first of two consecutive seasons.
“We've had some historic battles,” McKnight said. “I don't look at it as No. 1 and No. 2 (this year). On any given day who's to say which team is better.”
The Monarchs clearly were superior through three quarters. They took a 49-41 lead into the fourth and went ahead by 11 soon after. Nowhere did Mater Dei control the game than on the boards. Mater Dei held a 44-32 advantage, with 21 boards coming on the offensive end.
Poly coach Sharrief Metoyer called “getting beat up on the backboards” the difference in the game. McKnight said coming in it was the Monarchs' “absolute No. 1 priority.”
No one took that to heart quite like forward Xavier Johnson, who had 19 points and 20 rebounds, including 11 offensive rebounds. Guard Katin Reinhardt had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Stanley Johnson had 14 points and seven rebounds.
The game's complexion took a stark turn early in the fourth quarter when guard Joshua Munzon hit a 3-pointer to spark an 8-0 Jackrabbits' run that made it 53-50. Poly, which never led once, twice cut it to a one-point margin in the final minutes.
Poly guard Chris Croom scored a team-high 19 points, including 15 in the second half. He had a chance to tie the game at 61-all but missed a layup with 21 seconds remaining.
Stanley Johnson grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He then missed two free throws, the ball bouncing directly back to him following the second attempt. After making one of two tries, he crowded Poly guard Roschon Prince near halfcourt and stole the ball with three seconds left.
Prince, who came in averaging 20 points a game, scored the Jackrabbits first five points but made just one field goal thereafter, as Mater Dei threw several defenders at him while often employing a Diamond-and-1 defense.