Crenshaw Beats Mater Dei to Gain State Final, 59-57

Times Staff Writer

It started with 6-4 Dion Brown outjumping 6-10 LeRon Ellis for the opening tip and ended with the players from Crenshaw High School piled on top of each other at center court.

What happened in between more than matched the hype for what was being billed as the game of the year.

Santa Ana Mater Dei lost its coach, Crenshaw star Stephen Thompson almost lost his jaw and the Monarchs did lose their 59-game winning streak and no doubt their No. 2 ranking in the country as the Cougars, after fumbling a chance to win the game in regulation, got three free throws from guard Troy Batiste within 10 seconds of overtime to beat Mater Dei, 59-57, Saturday night before a boisterous crowd of 12,390 at the Sports Arena.

The win puts Crenshaw (24-2) into the State Division I final March 22 at Oakland against the Northern California champion, Oakland Bishop O'Dowd. Crenshaw won the state title last season.

"We should have won it in regulation," said Thompson, who finished with 18 points. "But we let them back in the game. We missed free throws and we made bad passes. Still, we took it."

Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight, who had been hit with only one technical all season as the Monarchs went undefeated through 30 games, was ejected with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter after picking up his third of the game. But that was only the clincher to his night-long battle with referees John Starkins and Simon Peters.

McKnight, who gave his team a day off from practice Friday, obviously had a lot of energy himself. He got his first technical after going on to the court to yell at Starkins, the former Marshall High star who had the City single-season scoring record until Jerry Simon broke it this season, with 4:33 left in the second quarter and made another trip out near midcourt as both teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.

"I did it (the first technical) to fire my team up and to let the officials know this was a State semifinal game and should be officiated that way. I thought there was a lot of stopping of play. I think the next time the City is in charge of something like this, they should use non-City officials or split them one City and one from Orange County."

Said Ellis: "I don't know what Coach McKnight was was up to. "I guess he had a reason. I'm not going to question him."

Crenshaw Coach Willie West got called for a technical, too, but more importantly, almost lost Thompson on the same play.

With 7:09 to play in the third quarter and the Cougars leading, 28-24, Mater Dei's Jim Dwyer came away with the ball in a crowd and swung his elbows, catching Thompson square on the side of the face. He stayed down for a few minutes.

"When I got hit, I was out," Thompson said. "I didn't know when it happened, I didn't know what quarter it was."

Crenshaw called time out to let Thompson inhale some smelling salts on the sidelines, and he returned immediately. Thirty seconds later, after Mater Dei pulled within a point, 28-27, Peters called a players-only meeting at the Monarch free-throw line in hopes of keeping order.

Ellis and Stuart Thomas fouled out in overtime, but only after leading all scorers with 20 points each.

Along with Thompson's 18, Crenshaw got 11 from Ronald Caldwell and 11 from Tracey Freeman off the bench.

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