Mater Dei beats Windward to win Southern Section Open Division girls’ final
Kevin Kiernan has won so many Southern Section girls’ basketball championships that he can put a ring on each of his 10 fingers. And yet, after Santa Ana Mater Dei came away with a 77-65 victory over Los Angeles Windward on Friday night for title No. 11 in the Open Division final, he gave a hint how this one was different.
“They find a way to win,” he said of a team that had to beat Etiwanda, Lynwood, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon and Windward in consecutive tournament games. “Some teams are special, and this is one of the most special I’ve been a part of.”
Playing at the Pyramid in Long Beach, the game featured some of the best young girls’ basketball players in the state. Freshman Juju Watkins of Windward scored her team’s first 10 points and finished with 28.
“She could be an Olympian,” Kiernan said.
Sophomore Soleil Montros of Mater Dei was four for four from three-point range and finished with 20 points. Freshman Caia Elisandez of Mater Dei had nine assists and 14 points.
“They had a great game plan and executed well,” Windward coach Vanessa Nygaard said.
It was a game of spurts. Mater Dei had a 14-0 run to rally from a 15-6 deficit to start the game. Windward had an 18-0 run to come back from a 29-18 deficit. But in the second half and particularly the fourth quarter, Mater Dei’s full-court press did something that changed the game — it took the ball away from Watkins.
“It was huge,” Kiernan said. “We had to get the ball out of Juju’s hands. She was having an extraordinary game and tearing us apart.”
Windward made several turnovers in the fourth quarter and was outscored 25-13 after the game was tied 52-52.
Stanford commit Brooke Demetre made a clutch shot just inside the key as Mater Dei was clinging to a 63-59 lead with 2:41 left and the shot clock winding down.
“I knew I just had to get it up. And it went in,” Demetre said.
She was fouled and completed the three-point play. The Monarchs were never threatened again.
Watkins was limited to six points in the second half after scoring 22 points to give Windward a 36-33 halftime lead.
Mater Dei barely made it out of its four-team pool, having to pull out a 61-60 overtime win over Sierra Canyon last week to advance to the final.
“This is the hardest tournament in the country, and it’s not even close,” Kiernan said.
The moment was particularly poignant for Kiernan because his daughter, Camryn, plays on the team.
Mater Dei (30-2) and Windward (25-5) both will resume action next week in the Southern California Open Division regionals trying to reach Sacramento for the state championship game. Last season, Windward won the Southern Section title but lost to Sierra Canyon in the regional final.
Nygaard was already trying to fire up her disappointed players.
“We’re going to be ready,” she said. “We’re not done. We live to play another game.”
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