Mater Dei Wins Third Title in Four Seasons, 86-59 : Monarchs Run Winning Streak to 58 as Thomas and Ellis Each Score 30

Times Staff Writer

Play it again, Gary.

The cast of characters may have changed, but the game's still the same. Mater Dei High School proved once again that it's the supreme team in the CIF Southern Section by rolling to an 86-59 win over Serra Saturday night in front of 8,703 fans in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

The victory gave Coach Gary McKnight his third Southern Section title in the past four years, his 115th career win and the Monarchs' 58th consecutive victory over the past two seasons.

The 5-A championship game was, perhaps, one of the Monarchs' easiest wins of what turned out to be another 29-0 season. Serra, which finished 23-5, was simply outsized by a taller Mater Dei team that physically wore out the Cavaliers in the second half.

This year's stars--forward Stu Thomas and center LeRon Ellis--treated some former Monarch stars to some entertaining basketball. Tom Lewis, Mike Fielder and Chris Jackson were among the crowd, and Mike Mitchell was on the bench.

Both players finished with 30 points. Thomas was 14 of 25 from the field and Ellis was 13 of 18. Ellis had 12 rebounds and Thomas had 9.

Ellis' dunk with 7:22 remaining in the fourth quarter pushed Mater Dei ahead, 62-47, and when Thomas added a jump shot, the Monarchs had a 17-point lead and another title for the trophy case.

What's next? Most likely a meeting with City 4-A champion Crenshaw next Saturday at the same facility. Mater Dei will begin play in the Southern California Regionals on Thursday night, playing host to the winner of Tuesday night's opening-round game between City 3-A champion Marshall and Fresno Edison. The game is set for Cal State Fullerton's Titan Gym.

A Mater Dei victory Thursday night will set up a showdown with Crenshaw, one of only four teams to beat Mater Dei since McKnight became the coach four years ago.

But before entertaining thoughts of regional play next week, McKnight wanted to savor the title and praised his undefeated team.

"We were able to get the ball inside at will," McKnight said. "Get it past the 10-second line and everything is great. I think we're starting to peak, and I hope it continues into next week.

"We started slowly because we had to get back on defense to stop them from shooting layups. Then, we went inside at will."

Asked if winning basketball titles is becoming routine, McKnight said: "How could this get old? This is the highlight of high school sports, winning a CIF championship."

The Monarchs' heralded power game was too much for Serra. Thomas made the most of his low-post position to get his points, and Ellis continued to impress with his fine, all-around play under the basket.

Ellis was named the most valuable player of the evening session, and Thomas also was selected to the 12-man team.

The first quarter was reduced to a free-throw shooting contest as the teams attempted 21 free throws in a foul-plagued period. Serra managed to stay close to Mater Dei by making all 10 of its free throws and trailed, 22-16, at the end of the quarter.

Thomas and Ellis started quickly, combining for 18 points in the quarter. The Monarchs trailed, 14-12, late in the first quarter but outscored the Cavaliers, 10-2, to take control.

Mater Dei's biggest lead of the first half was 33-19 as reserve Kevin Rembert scored nine points to lead the surge. Serra's leading scorer, Keith Malone, had difficulty against the taller Monarchs and struggled to get seven points in the half.

For Thomas, the game marked another in a series of great efforts in title games. He had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the Monarchs' 5-A championship game last year against Ocean View. He was named the most valuable player in last December's Tournament of Champions after a 28-point effort against Santa Monica. He also had 20 points in December's Orange Tournament title game against Capistrano Valley.

'How could this get old? This is the highlight of high school sports, winning a CIF championship.'

--Gary McKnight

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World