Although Coach Gary McKnight was still beaming about the improvement in his team this season, six-time Southern Section champion Mater Dei faces its stiffest task of the season when it plays San Bernardino Pacific at 7:30 tonight at San Bernardino San Gorgonio High School in a Division I-A semifinal.
The Monarchs (21-7), whom many wrote off for a playoff berth in the middle of the regular season, were impressive in their 71-63 victory over Riverside Arlington in the quarterfinals.
"I'm just tickled to be where we are," McKnight said.
Pacific (21-8), which has never advanced to a Southern Section final, is in great position to do so after advancing to its third consecutive semifinal. The Pirates are led by shot-blocking sensation Demond Huff, a 6-9 center. He blocked 10 shots in Pacific's 64-59 victory over Canyon Country Canyon Friday and had 14 in the opening round against Cerritos.
The Pirates' leading scorer, off-guard Chaun Ballard, was triple-teamed by Canyon. That opened the door for sophomore point guard Chris Smith, who had 22 points.
Santa Margarita will be playing in its second title game in three years when it faces top-seeded Compton in the Division II-AA final at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at UC Irvine.
The second-seeded Eagles (27-2) will be led by Sea View League player of the year T.J. Williams, who scored 21 points in an 83-57 semifinal victory over Inglewood. Santa Margarita forward Ryan Forehan-Kelley leads the team in scoring with 14 points. Eight players average between eight and 14 points for the Eagles.
Compton (26-5) is loaded with Division I college material. Point guard Avondre Moore (Vanderbilt) and forward/center David Hamilton (Auburn) can fly. Compton has won three playoff games by an average margin of 23 points and is averaging 72 points a game over that span.
Three-point shooting Barstow (25-3) makes its first appearance in a section final in 45 years when it takes on Ocean View Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Arrowhead Pond.
Barstow has used the three-point shot effectively all season. The Aztecs rallied to upend La Canada, 64-61, in the semifinals, after trailing by 11 points with three minutes left in the game.
Ocean View (24-4), which has a 14-game winning streak, is making its 20th consecutive playoff appearance under Coach Jim Harris. The Seahawks are guided by 6-1 guard Tony Dow, who averages five assists a game. Ocean View is tall and talented and has seven players who can carry the team on any given night. Dow had 21 points in the Seahawks' 71-58 semifinal victory over Pomona, while 6-10 center Kevin Hanson scored 20 points and had 13 rebounds in its quarterfinal victory over Bolsa Grande.
Second-seeded Calvary Chapel, which has won 13 consecutive games, makes its second consecutive appearance in a section title game when it plays fourth-seeded Santa Maria St. Joseph at 8 p.m. Friday in the Division IV-AA final. The Eagles (23-6) are led by senior shooting guard Joe Ortiz, who has scored 2,001 points in his high school career.