The chant of "We Want Crenshaw" began with seven seconds remaining, but only after Mater Dei High School had held on for an 81-74 victory over Fresno Edison Thursday night in the second round of the boys Division I Southern Regional in Cal State Fullerton's Titan Gym.
A crowd of 3,000 came in from the rain and watched the reign of the Monarchs extend to 59 consecutive victories. The win sets up the game that most have been anticipating all season. It will be Mater Dei vs. Crenshaw at 8 on Saturday night in the Sports Arena for the regional title and the right to go to Oakland and play for the State title.
Crenshaw (23-2) advanced with an 82-73 win over Poway, and the self-proclaimed "world champions" of prep basketball will meet the undefeated Monarchs (30-0) in what figures to be the prep game of the year.
Gary McKnight, Mater Dei coach, has lost only five games in four seasons, and one of those losses came against Crenshaw in the regional three years ago. The Monarchs beat Crenshaw in the Tournament of Champions that year.
"The way we played tonight, maybe Crenshaw was on my players' minds," McKnight said. "It was good for us to get a test before playing Crenshaw. The last thing I wanted was a blowout.
"Now, the players will hopefully realize that we have to be ready to play a great team like Crenshaw."
Edison, which finished the season at 24-5, played it close against the Monarchs, owing to some incredible perimeter shooter. The Tigers repeatedly swished long jump shots from beyond the college gym's three-point line, which is 19 feet 9 inches from the basket.
Junior forward Charlie Ross was the Tigers' hottest shooter, making 13 of 19 field-goal attempts and finishing with 29 points. Ross had 10 points in the last quarter as Edison cut a 15-point deficit to three points in the final three minutes of play before Monarch guard John Mounce made four free throws to seal the win.
Mater Dei won the game at the free-throw line, hitting 23 of 30 attempts. But the Monarchs missed the front end of four one-and-one opportunities in the final minutes as Edison sliced a 77-62 lead to 77-74 with 50 seconds remaining.
Edison didn't attempt a free throw until 4:48 remained in the third quarter. The Tigers made 5 of just 7 attempts in the game.
"I think they were a better team, but we didn't get a break from the officials," said Bill Engel, Edison coach. "This was actually an off-night shooting for us. Charlie shot well, but Dave Barnett was really off."
Barnett, who had averaged 26.3 points in his last six games, was held to 13 points. But McKnight was still impressed with the Tigers' shooting.
"They shot unbelievable, and everybody on their team seemed to shoot well," he said. "That's the way they shot on Tuesday night when I scouted them. But I was surprised that they didn't press us earlier.
"I know Crenshaw will press from start to finish. I just hope we don't get caught up in a running game."
Forward Stuart Thomas, who led all scorers with 31 points, said it was just a matter of time before the Monarchs pulled away from Edison. Thomas' three-point play with 25 seconds left in the third quarter pushed Mater Dei ahead, 61-48.
"Once we figured out that their weakness was post defense, we went inside and they couldn't stop us," Thomas said. The senior made 9 of 12 shots from the field.
Junior center LeRon Ellis, named the evening session's most valuable player in the Southern Section's championship tournament, had an off-night with just 13 points and four rebounds. The son of former Laker star LeRoy Ellis couldn't explain the letdown.