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High School Sports

Mater Dei is flourishing in underdog role in Southern Section basketball playoffs

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Santa Ana Mater Dei could clinch a spot in Southern Section Open Division championship game with a win over Rancho Christian on Tuesday.
(Nick Koza / For The Times)

Making Santa Ana Mater Dei and coach Gary McKnight an underdog in anything is about as risky as walking on fire. You’ll get burned.

The Monarchs started the Southern Section Open Division basketball playoffs as the No. 7 seed after an inconsistent regular season in which the once highly regarded team had no signature victories other than in league play. Then Mater Dei upset No. 2-seeded Corona Centennial.

On Tuesday, the Monarchs can clinch a spot in the Open Division final if they can beat Rancho Christian in a pool play game at Great Oak. It would be a stunning reversal for a team that has been considered under achieving.

But McKnight, the winningest coach in California history, is pretty good when his team enters underdog territory. They’ll be underdogs again against Rancho Christian and 7-foot McDonald’s All-American Evan Mobley. Even if Mater Dei loses, the Monarchs could still make the final if Rancho Christian were to lose to Corona Centennial on Friday and the Monarchs were able to beat Harvard-Westlake. They hold the tiebreaker edge if there’s a three-way tie for first place in the pool.

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Sierra Canyon and Etiwanda appear to be on a collision course to meet on Friday at Calabasas to decide the other pool. Sierra Canyon will play St. Anthony on Tuesday at CSUN, and Etiwanda plays host to St. John Bosco.

The Division 1 quarterfinals has a terrific matchup of No. 1-seeded Windward facing host Mayfair and standout player Joshua Christopher. It could be Christopher’s final game for Mayfair, so expect him to be going all out to keep his senior year going.

In 2-AA, Heritage Christian and standout sophomore guard Skyy Clark will play at St. Francis and take on UC Irvine-bound Andre Henry.

In 2-A, Peninsula has been a surprise and next gets to play at No. 1-seeded Ribet, which picked up a big-time transfer from Texas in Tre White right before the regular season ended.


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