Championships don't have to be difficult. They just have to be won.
Battered and bruised Mater Dei was a testament to that Thursday night.
With one starter hobbled by a swollen ankle and another suffering back spasms from a collision early in the second half, the Monarchs maintained their composure in winning the title of one of the most prestigious high school basketball tournaments in the nation.
The 69-48 victory over Redemption Christian Academy of Troy, N.Y., at the Holiday Prep Classic in front of a surprised crowd of about 3,500 at Durango High avenged a last-second lost in last season's final. Mater Dei lost, 55-53, to Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Va., and also lost the national No. 1 ranking.
But that Mater Dei team, loaded with talent, had 36 victories and won a state championship.
The current Monarchs weren't expected to do as much.
"No one gave us a chance at getting this far, so we feel good about ourselves," said guard Kevin Augustine, who was named the tournament's MVP. Augustine had 26 points and eight rebounds Thursday night.
Augustine, a guard and the only returning starter from the team that lost in the final a year ago, put up some impressive numbers during the six-game, four-day tournament. He reached double-figure scoring in each game, averaging more than 20 points and seven rebounds.
Forward Tom Lippold, who finished with 18 points and six rebounds, helped the Monarchs early in the first half by drilling four three-pointers. Then Augustine's three-point play off a pass from David Castleton gave Mater Dei a 26-23 lead with one minute 22 seconds remaining in the half. Augustine followed with two free throws and a basket with three seconds left and the Monarchs led, 30-23, at the half.
Mater Dei (10-1) advanced to the final with a 70-63 victory over host Durango in the morning's semifinal game. Castleton, who injured his left ankle in that game, wasn't expected to play against Redemption Christian (5-2). Still, with his ankle heavily taped, he had 11 points and four rebounds Thursday night.
"We knew we had to control the tempo, to break them down so maybe they get a little tired or impatient," Coach Gary McKnight said. "This has been an unbelievable run."
In other tournament games:
Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy 76, Woodbridge 56--Coach John Halagan feared the worse, and he got it.
"I have to find a way to win against Oak Hill and they'll be breathing fire when they play us after losing," Halagan said before the game.
Oak Hill, the nation's seventh-ranked team, was upset by Phoenix Shadow Mountain in Wednesday's quarterfinals and took it out on the Warriors in the fourth-place semifinal. Oak Hill built leads of up to 21 points, taking advantage of Woodbridge's poor start, which saw them fall behind, 38-22, in the first half.
The second half became a slam-and-jam show as both coaches went to the bench. Woodbridge center Chris Burgess scored 19 points on only 8-of-22 shooting. He also grabbed 11 rebounds, as the Warriors outrebounded Oak Hill, 35-29. William Stovall had 10 points.
Steve Jackson of Oak Hill, who has signed to play at Arizona, scored 14 points, had six assists and five rebounds. Ricardo Crumble, who has signed to play at DePaul, had 13 points. Oak Hill made 33 of 52 shots.
Santa Ana Valley 73, Denver George Washington 50--The Falcons (6-6) broke a three-game losing streak after tournament officials organized three additional games for winless teams, bringing the total number for the tournament to 109. Ike Harmon led all scorers with 19 points and had seven rebounds.