Humbled, if not humiliated, when it trailed by 17 points in the Southern Section Division 1AA championship game two weeks ago, Santa Ana Mater Dei showed the kind of toughness and resolve on Saturday night that usually leads to a state championship.
With senior point guard Jordan Strawberry providing an offensive spark in the first half and junior Stanley Johnson getting hot in the third quarter, Mater Dei (33-2) avenged its earlier defeat to Etiwanda with a 60-37 victory over the Eagles on Saturday night in the CIF Southern California Open Division final at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
The win gives the Monarchs an opportunity to play for their 10th state title in Coach Gary McKnight’s 31 seasons next Saturday against San Jose Mitty in Sacramento.
The 6-foot-7 Johnson missed all 10 of his shots in the first half. He missed his first shot of the third quarter, then turned in a dazzling display, scoring 16 points, including four three-pointers. He made six consecutive shots and helped Mater Dei surge to a 47-27 lead. He finished with 25 points.
In the first half, Mater Dei was the team with defensive intensity, boxing out and forcing outside shots to take a 29-17 halftime lead. Even without one of its top offensive players, Elijah Brown, on the bench because of three fouls, the Monarchs scored the first 11 points of the second quarter. Etiwanda went scoreless until the 2:35 mark.
Strawberry finished the first half with 13 points and had 17 on the night. Etiwanda’s top scorer, Jordan McLaughlin, had a tough night. He was one for 15 and finished with four points.
“The kids were very focused,” McKnight said. “I thought last time we came in acting real cool, and cool doesn’t get it done.”