Mater Dei Recovers in Time for Victory

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brad Williams, the all-county prep lineman who is headed to Notre Dame to play football, made the biggest fumble recovery of his career Thursday night.

The starting center on the Mater Dei boys' basketball team made a diving grab of a loose ball in the Los Angeles Fremont key with 25 seconds left in overtime to help the Monarchs secure a 63-57 victory at the Bren Center in the semifinals of the Southern California Regional playoffs.

Mater Dei (34-1) trailed most of the game until David Castleton, who finished with 17 points, made a three-point play with one minute five seconds left in overtime to give the Monarchs a 58-57 lead.

Fremont tried to set up for the last shot, as it did at the close of regulation. Then, Donny Wilcher's driving layup try was blocked from behind by Mater Dei guard Kevin Augustine.

In the Williams' melee, someone got a hand on a sloppy, back-handed pass from guard Danny Walker to Matthew Holyfield. That sent the 6-foot-5, 262-pound Williams sprawling to the floor for the ball. He earned the Monarchs a jump ball with the possession arrow in their favor.

Castleton made one of two free throws with 12.7 seconds left for a 59-57 lead, then Wilcher, who finished with 12 points, was stripped of the ball again, this time by Castleton with 3.3 seconds left, as Wilcher was driving back inside the key for what could have been the tying layup.

Tom Lippold, who scored 13 points on only four-of-12 shooting, ended the game with two free throws for Mater Dei, which has won 34 consecutive games and advances to its fifth consecutive Southern California Regional final Saturday at the Pond.

"These kids just find a way to win," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said.

Williams, who had nine rebounds, was well aware of what a jump ball meant when he went crashing to the floor.

"Coach told us just before that anything loose, get on it," Williams said. "So I told myself, anything on the floor is mine."

Mater Dei could have put this one away earlier, had the Monarchs been able to shoot free throws. The Monarchs made just 13 of 31, and at the end of regulation had made just seven of 24.

Fremont, getting four NBA-range three-pointers by Walker, who had all of his game-high 18 points in the first half, led by as many as 10 points in the first half. The Pathfinders forced the Monarchs to extend their rare zone defense, and once that was accomplished, went inside with Walker, Wilcher and Holyfield, who also had 18 points on some easy baskets.

Mater Dei countered with a diamond and one zone to open the second half, alternating players on Walker. The tactic worked. It frustrated Fremont into several poor shots and a couple of turnovers, and just about each time Mater Dei quickly capitalized. By the time the Monarchs switched back to their forte, a man-to-man defense with 6-9 center Mike Vukovich out in favor of a smaller lineup, they had caught the Pathfinders at 39-39 with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.

Mater Dei had a chance to win twice in the final minutes, but Williams and reserve forward Jason Vallas missed two pairs of free throws.

"We had our opportunities and we didn't do it," said Fremont Coach Sam Sullivan, who compared this loss to the 82-81 upset the Pathfinders suffered in the City Section final against Crenshaw. "Our inability to sustain a second half like we did a first half cost us, just like it did against Crenshaw."

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