A rare event happened Tuesday night at Mater Dei's 9-year-old Meruelo Athletic Center — the Monarchs lost a home basketball game. It last happened in 2009 to Fairfax, and before that, the only other time was 2007 when Kevin Love visited as a high school senior from Oregon.
Etiwanda pulled out a 52-49 victory in the Southern Section Open Division semifinals behind junior Garrett Carter, who made a three-pointer with 18 seconds left and added two free throws with seven seconds left to provide the margin of victory.
"Garrett hit a big shot at the end — incredible," said Etiwanda Coach Dave Kleckner, whose program is known for its tough man-to-man defense.
The Eagles (23-7) advance to play top-seeded Torrance Bishop Montgomery in Saturday's Open Division championship game at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
A year ago, Etiwanda lost to Mater Dei in double overtime in a state semifinal that featured Jordan McLaughlin (USC) for Etiwanda and Stanley Johnson (Arizona) for Mater Dei. This time, it was the largely unknown Carter playing a starring role. He rarely played last season, but in the decisive moment with his team down by two points, he came through with a baseline jumper from the left side of the court as time was winding down.
"Kleck drew up a good play," said Carter, who finished with 13 points. "It was set for me and I just hit the shot."
Mater Dei (26-4) got into trouble when it went cold from the free-throw line (the Monarchs were five of 12) and from three-point range (six of 15). Meanwhile, Etiwanda made 12 of its 14 free throws and outrebounded the Monarchs, 30-23.
MJ Cage had 18 points, but only four came in the second half. La'Vette Parker added 17 points.
Etiwanda's secret to success was staying the course. Even when the Eagles fell behind by 10 points early on, they kept playing stingy defense and waiting for the opportunity to catch the Monarchs.
"We talked about being mentally tough, letting things go, moving on and they did," Kleckner said.
Now the Eagles have to focus on Bishop Montgomery, which is 29-1 on the season.¿
"We haven't even watched them," Kleckner said.