Mater Dei Upset in Quarterfinals

Times Staff Writer

Sometimes things change, and sometimes they just change names.

St. Monica High School beat Mater Dei in the Southern Section 5-AA quarterfinals, 69-66, Wednesday at Rancho Santiago College in front of 2,800. It was the first loss for Mater Dei, four-time defending large-school champion, in the playoffs since 1984, when it lost to Long Beach Poly in overtime, 45-44, in the 5-A final.

Wednesday's game was a close one, the type that Mater Dei--except for 1984--has always won in the playoffs. It beat St. Monica, 48-47, in the 1987 5-A semifinals when St. Monica center Brian Williams, now at Arizona, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 5 seconds remaining in the game.

In 1989, St. Monica made its free throws, including seven of nine in the last 1:11 of the game.

Asked if he talked to his team about the 1987 disaster before Wednesday's game, St. Monica Coach Leo Klemm said he didn't "go in for that Mickey Mouse inspirational speech stuff."

Others apparently do because the most conspicuous St. Monica banner read: "We remember 1987."

This time, it was second-seeded Mater Dei (24-3) that was missing free throws--it missed the front end of two one-and-one opportunities in the last 1:53--and making key mistakes and missing key shots down the stretch, things it hardly ever did in amassing a 26-1 record in the playoffs coming into Wednesday's game.

St. Monica (22-5), which will play Millikan in the semifinals Friday, held a 15-10 lead after the first quarter, but Mater Dei rallied in the second and the game was tied at 30-30 by the half.

And actually, with less than 3 minutes left in the game, things looked good for Mater Dei. It held a 61-57 lead after coming into the fourth quarter, trailing 47-46.

But with 2:05 left, St. Monica forward Donovan Green, who scored all of four points on the night, made a three-point shot as teammate Cleveland Jackson was fouled under the basket by Mater Dei's Derek Stone.

Jackson, who had 14 points, made both free throws, which completed a five-point play and gave St. Monica a 62-61 lead that it didn't relinquish.

"The five-point play really turned everything around," said Gary McKnight, Mater Dei coach. "We couldn't capitalize on anything after that."

For instance, Mater Dei had a chance to tie, but missed a free throw with 1:53 left. Seconds later, Andy Karich forced a St. Monica turnover when he took a charge. But then Karich turned the ball over when he was called for traveling as he tried to make an inbounds pass.

Things followed that script for the rest of the game, which means that Mater Dei will not make the large-school final for the first time since Gary McKnight took over as coach for the 1982-83 season.

St. Monica was led by guard Mark Johnson's 24 points, including four three-pointers, a couple of those from NBA range. Mater Dei's Dylan Rigdon led all scorers with 26 and also had four three-pointers.

"I'm disappointed tonight," McKnight said. "But if you would have told me this team would go 24-3 before the season, I would be very happy. For most other teams, this is a banner year."

It certainly is for St. Monica.

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