Southern Section basketball championships are no longer just a guy thing at Mater Dei.
The Monarch team now has a Division I-A banner to hoist--the first Southern Section basketball title by any girls' team in school history--after defeating the Ventura Buena, 57-53, Friday at the Pyramid.
"This is something I'll always cherish because it is the first time," Mater Dei Coach Mary Hauser said.
What made it even sweeter for the Monarchs (25-1) was that they finally beat the Bulldogs, who had won the last two games between the teams. Buena won last year's section final, 50-41, and a nonleague matchup five weeks ago, 55-48, which was Mater Dei's only loss this season.
"There was no other team we wanted more than Buena," said Monarch forward Melody Peterson, who had 24 points. "The last time we played them on the road, we played scared. But we knew we were the better team."
Peterson, who added six rebounds, four assists and made about every key basket the Monarchs needed, had added incentive. She said she had talked to her ailing grandfather, Edgar Meyers, who lives in Florida, and he told her to win the game. "I dedicate this to him," Peterson said.
She did have help. Rhonda Gondringer scored 15 points and Michelle Meyers scored all her seven points in the first half as the Monarchs built a 34-22 halftime lead. And if the other Mater Dei players weren't scoring, they were making other critical contributions.
Although smaller than Buena (23-3), the Monarchs ruled in rebounds, 33-27, including an impressive 13-7 differential on offense. Mater Dei also clogged up the Bulldogs' inside attack most of the night. Buena center Nicole Greathouse--harassed by Peterson, giving away four inches in height--wound up with 18 points (13 in the second half), but no other Buena player had more than 10.
"We felt we could control the boards, especially the offensive boards," Buena Coach Joe Vaughan said. "But we didn't block out very well, particularly at the free-throw line. And we didn't start executing until the fourth quarter, but by then we were digging out of a hole, and that made it tough."
If there was one lesson Mater Dei had absorbed in those two losses to Buena it was run, don't walk against the Bulldogs. As long as Buena controlled the tempo (with their height and size), they controlled the game.
"The last time we played them we didn't push the ball forward or rebound well. One shot and that was it," Hauser said. "As soon as they get a lead on you then they pass, pass, pass until they get the shot they want.
"They can't run with us but we can't walk it up with them."
So Hauser spent the week drilling her team on playing constant pressure defense, the feeling being the Monarchs had to force Buena into mistakes and make them run.
It worked exceptionally well in the first half.
Anticipating the entry passes from the Bulldog guards, Mater Dei consistently stepped in front to intercept them and raced into the fast break at every opportunity. The Monarchs also discovered they could exploit the holes in the Buena zone, breaking free down the middle for easy layups.
The key burst came midway through the second quarter, when Mater Dei ripped off a 12-4 run, taking the score from 19-15 to 31-19. It was a spread that ultimately proved too large for Buena to overcome.
Not that the Bulldogs didn't try. Buena had its own 16-8 run from the end of the third quarter to midway in the fourth when Mater Dei appeared to tire. But Buena, which has spent the game chasing rather than being chased, was unable to get closer than four points.
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