Santa Monica High School came so close to ending Mater Dei's domination in the Tournament of Champions Saturday night in Cal Poly Pomona's Kellogg Gymnasium.
Guard Carrick DeHart and forward Keith Harris missed shots in the final six seconds of play as the Monarchs held on for a 53-52 victory to win the tournament title for the third straight season.
DeHart, who had been a hero in the Vikings' semifinal victory over Capistrano Valley with a 40-foot shot at the buzzer, was about 22 feet closer to the basket this time, but he missed. Harris grabbed the rebound, missed a short follow shot, grabbed a second rebound, was fouled but time had expired.
Somehow, the Monarchs had escaped with their 14th consecutive victory in the Southern California tournament, and their 38th straight over the past two years.
"I saw those two shots and thought it was all over," said Gary McKnight, Mater Dei coach. "After watching DeHart beat Capo Valley on that long shot, I was telling myself, 'Oh no, this is it.' That was just luck right there."
There was some confusion at the conclusion of the game. It appeared that Monarch forward Stuart Thomas had fouled Harris, and referee Charles Hill blew his whistle, indicating a foul. But Hill's officiating partner, Lee Phelps, ruled that time had expired.
"I was scared when I heard the whistle," McKnight said. "I'll be able to rest now for a few days. I don't know if there is a No. 1 team here. Five teams could have won this tournament."
Santa Monica certainly had its chances. The Vikings missed five shots in the final two minutes, including the two high-percentage shots near the end.
"We had the shots, and of course, they didn't go down," said Cliff Hunter, Santa Monica coach. "We ran the plays we wanted at the end and got the ball to the guys we wanted to shoot. I thought Carrick forced his shot, but we certainly had our chances."
The Vikings, who fell to 6-2, were sluggish in the first half, but came on strong in the third quarter. Mater Dei opened with a 7-0 lead and extended it to 11-2. Thomas made three free throws with 3:36 left in the half to move the Monarchs ahead, 28-19, and the third tournament title seemed like a cinch.
But Harris rallied the Vikings in the third quarter, and Santa Monica took the lead, 35-34, after DeHart made a 20-foot jump shot. The teams traded leads through the remainder of the quarter until Thomas scored on a follow shot with four seconds left for a 46-43 lead.
Mater Dei had a 53-50 advantage with 2:23 remaining in the game after LeRon Ellis made a free throw. The Vikings sliced the lead to one point on Danny Price's jump shot, and then neither team scored the remainder of the game.
Thomas, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, led all scorers with 28 points. He made 10 of 17 shots and all 8 of his free throws. Harris had 16 points and DeHart scored 14 for Santa Monica.
McKnight called the victory the beginning of a new era at Mater Dei.
"This is a new era at Mater Dei without Tom Lewis, Mike Mitchell or Matt Beeuwsaert," he said. "We established ourselves, and we needed that. There was too much history coming into play and not enough of this team.
"I thought Stu was our most consistent player in the tournament and deserved to be the MVP."
MATER DEI (53)--Dwyer 7, Thomas 28, Ellis 7, Mounce 7, Peabody 7.
SANTA MONICA (52)--Forsyth 2, Kelvin Harris 10, Keith Harris 16, Neal 6, DeHart 14, Hunter 2, Price 2.
Capistrano Valley 59, Fairfax 56--Point guard Nathan Call made a three-point play with 4:05 remaining, and Fairfax went scoreless for nearly four minutes down the stretch in the third-place game.
The Cougars (8-1) had a six-point lead with 1:20 remaining but some missed free throws helped the Lions get to within 58-56. Fairfax (6-2) had an opportunity to tie the game with 16 seconds left, but sophomore forward Chris Mills missed two free throws.
Call led the Cougars with 19 points and had six assists. He also established a tournament record with 27 assists in four games. Shawn Reed added 16 points and was named to the all-tournament team along with Call.
FAIRFAX (56)--Mills 22, Green 13, Higgins 11, Gerber 2, Miller 6, Henderson 2.
CAPISTRANO VALLEY (59)--Trask 8, Reed 16, Waikle 2, Stark 4, Call 19, Balagot 1, Davey 4, Montez 5.
Ocean View 50, Inglewood 39--Junior Ricky Butler scored 23 points and had nine rebounds as the Seahawks (9-1) finished in fifth place. Butler, who was named to the all-tournament team and scored 15 points in the second half as Ocean View overcame an 18-17 halftime deficit.
INGLEWOOD (39)--Jordan 13, Bowens 2, Gatewood 6, Arnett 7, Anderson 8, Lewis 1, Williams 2.
OCEAN VIEW (50)--Panzica 14, Hazely 12, Butler 23, Morris 1.