Put down another year's worth of rent. That high-priced piece of real estate for high school basketball, the Southern Section 5-A championship, still belongs to Santa Ana Mater Dei.
Actually, ownership papers may be in order. The Monarchs won the title for the third time in the three years of the 5-A Division by hanging on to beat Long Beach Millikan, 53-52, Saturday night before a crowd of 7,715 at the Sports Arena.
Mater Dei missed three of four free-throw attempts in the last 40 seconds, leaving the door open for Millikan. The one conversion, however, by Kevin Rembert with nine seconds to play, gave the Monarchs the three-point lead they would need since OJ Campbell hit a shot for Millikan at the buzzer.
"We spark up at the beginning, then we let down," said Mater Dei center LeRon Ellis, who had 21 points and 15 rebounds, both game highs. "Then we spark back up again, but by the end of the game, we're letting down and it's tooth and nail from then."
Mater Dei advanced to the State playoffs next week with a 28-1 record, the only loss coming against Flint Hill prep of Oakton, Va., ranked as the nation's No. 1 team by USA Today. Millikan concluded its season at 24-4.
Ken Jarvis led Millikan with 14 points, and Shawn Williams added 13 before fouling out. The Rams shot 38.3% (23 of 60).
Coming off his 17-point effort in Wednesday's semifinal against Brian Williams and St. Monica, Ellis faced the double-team inside defense that Millikan Coach Bill Odell had promised. However, Ellis turned out to be the least of the Rams' problems in the first half.
For one, there was Kevin Rembert, Mater Dei's No. 2 scorer and rebounder. With Ellis spending much of his time near the free-throw line or the high post, Rembert, a junior swingman, moved in for the Monarchs and finished the first half with 7 points and 7 rebounds.
For another, there was Millikan's poor shooting. The Rams, the Moore League champions making their first title game appearance since 1974, missed 12 of their first 16 field goal attempts and finished the first half with a 36% success rate (9 of 25). With that, they were outscored, 17-10, in the second quarter and trailed by nine heading into the third, 27-18.
In the closing seconds of the first half, the Rams were behind by six points and looking for the last shot, but Jarvis was called for traveling with six seconds left. Mater Dei converted that opportunity into a three-point play as guard John Boyle hit an 18-foot baseline jumper with three seconds left, was fouled and made the free throw.