Serra High School Coach George McDaniel suggested that his team was tailor-made for top-ranked Mater Dei, but one had to wonder what blueprint McDaniel had been reading following another Monarch romp.
Mater Dei rolled to its 28th consecutive victory and qualified for its third straight trip to the championship game with an easy 75-56 win over the Cavaliers in front of 4,533 fans Thursday night at the Long Beach Sports Arena.
The win sets up a showdown with second-seeded Ocean View (24-3) in the Southern Section 5-A basketball title game at 8:45 on Saturday night in the same facility. The game will be a rematch of the Tournament of Champions title game that Mater Dei won, 57-52, in December.
McDaniel told reporters he had scouted Mater Dei all season and knew what the Monarchs could do. Well, everybody knows what Mater Dei can do. The problem is containing a team that has won 85 games in the past three seasons.
Nobody has figured out a way to stop Mater Dei scoring sensation Tom Lewis. The 6-foot 8-inch senior scored 35 points and had 11 rebounds against Serra despite picking up his third foul with 6:30 remaining in the first half.
Lewis has totaled 2,423 points in his three-year career and needs 38 points to surpass former Cal State Fullerton All-American Leon Wood for third place on the all-time Southern Section career scoring list. The Monarchs also will attempt to do something no other Orange County team has ever done--finish the season undefeated.
Mater Dei looked practically unbeatable against an outmanned Serra team that was playing without guard Darryl May. May, who averages 9.1 points and 7.2 assists per game, was seriously injured in an automobile accident earlier in the day.
The Cavaliers had only one scoring threat: center Mark Sutherlin. Sutherlin scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half with his team trailing by 20 points. Physically, the Cavaliers couldn't match a bigger, more physical Mater Dei team.
"Serra beat some good people and won a very tough league," Monarch Coach Gary McKnight said. "Tonight, I thought our bench was better and they obviously couldn't stop Tom Lewis or Mike Mitchell.
"We've made it to the championship game three years in a row and it was only a few years ago that no one in Orange County ever thought something like this could happen. In fact, no one would have thought two county teams would make the final."
"I spent five years in the Ocean View gym, so I know Jim Harris will have his team ready for us," McKnight said. "He's the godfather of my second son (Bryan) and I think I'll have Bryan sit on the Ocean View bench Saturday night."
Most coaches would love to have McKnight's own bench warmers. Junior Jim Mounce came into the game in the second quarter and scored two quick baskets as the Monarchs built a 25-11 lead. Serra never recovered in the second half and ultimately became another Mater Dei victim.
It was aparrent from the opening tipoff that Serra was no match for Mater Dei. Sutherlin tipped the opening jump to teammate Glenn Gamble and Gamble drove the lane for what looked like a sure basket.
But from seemingly out of nowhere, Mitchell leaped high into the air to swat Gamble's shot into the fourth row of the stands. The play fired up both the Monarch players and the partisan crowd.
Serra managed to keep the game close in the first half, tying the score on seven different occasions before the Monarchs made their move. The score was tied, 14-14, when Mater Dei went on a 11-0 scoring spree.
As usual, it was Lewis and Mitchell who sparked the spurt with Lewis scoring three consecutive baskets and Mitchell adding two more. But Lewis picked up his third personal foul with 4:41 left in the half and was forced to play conservatively before going to the bench with three minutes remaining.
Lewis absence didn't seem to bother the Monarchs. Mater Dei extended its lead to 38-23 with 48 seconds remaining in the half when guard Tom Peabody stole a pass and scored a layup. Serra did trim Mater Dei's big lead to five points in the quarter but trailed by 14 points at halftime.
Mater Dei made 14 of 22 shots in the first half and 9 of 14 free throw attempts. Serra was 10 of 19 from the field and only 4 of 10 at the foul line.