Southern California Regionals : Mater Dei Looks Back, While Crenshaw Looks Ahead to Its Title Shot

Times Staff Writer

From the Mater Dei perspective, it may be remembered as a game with poor shooting and too many fouls that was made interesting only because of the close score and high emotions.

For the Crenshaw fans who were sent out of the Sports Arena singing in the rain, the combined 40-of-107 (37%) shooting from the free-throw line is nothing to be concerned with. The numbers they would probably rather discuss today are zero, one, two and four.

One, as in No. 1 in Southern California after the 59-57 overtime win Saturday night before a Sports Arena crowd of 12,390.

Two, as in the Cougars will play Northern California champion Oakland Bishop O'Dowd Saturday in Oakland for their second straight State Division I title.

Four, as in the number of players who made the all-tournament team: guards Stephen Thompson and Tracy Freeman, and forwards Dion Brown and Ronald Caldwell.

Zero? That's the current Mater Dei win streak after the team from Santa Ana won 59 in a row, seven short of the California record. That number may be the sweetest of all for Crenshaw Coach Willie West, who was accused by Monarch Coach Gary McKnight of ducking the top preseason tournament two years in a row.

"Their coach had made a comment in the newspaper saying that we were afraid to play them in the Tournament of Champions," West said. "But we weren't afraid to play them or anyone else. The reason we haven't competed in the Tournament of Champions for the past two years is because we got snubbed after John Williams graduated. Evidently, they didn't think Crenshaw was good enough to play in the tournament anymore."

In the final game of the postseason tournament known as the Southern California Regionals, Crenshaw (24-2) showed it could also be patient on offense. In a game they never trailed, the Cougars had a 47-45 lead early in the fourth quarter and controlled the ball without taking a shot for 1 1/2 minutes.

Their advantage was 54-48 when Thompson hit a pair of free throws with 49 seconds left, and they should have won the game in regulation. But after Mater Dei pulled within 54-52 and called a timeout with seven seconds to play, Thompson flipped the ball inbounds to Cougar point guard Troy Batiste, who dribbled on the base line.

With the ball under its own basket, Mater Dei (30-1) got the ball to the 6-10 LeRon Ellis, and he was fouled in the key by Brown. He made the first free throw, Crenshaw called a timeout, and Ellis came back out and swished the second one with four seconds left to send the game into overtime.

Batiste then made up for the earlier error and his 0-for-7 shooting from the field on the night with three free throws in a 10-second span in the extra quarter that gave Crenshaw a 59-55 lead. Mater Dei came back to within 59-57 with 12 seconds left and got the ball back for one last shot, but John Mounce's 18-footer from the right of the free-throw line hit the back of the rim and bounced away.

From any perspective, including that of McKnight, who paced outside the area leading to the locker room and out of view of the court after being ejected following several run-ins with referees John Starkins and Simon Peters, that meant the end of Mater Dei, no doubt a week earlier than planned.

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