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SOUTHERN SECTION IV-A CHAMPIONSHIP : Verbum Dei Loses a Game of Catch-Up, 69-53


A large Verbum Dei High following was out in force Friday night for the Eagles' Southern Section Division IV-A championship game against Serra--so large, in fact, that many were turned away because of lack of seating at El Camino College.

However, the disenchanted fans missed little. Serra ran away with a 69-53 victory before a standing-room-only crowd. Verbum Dei, seeking its eighth championship and first since 1979, fell behind early and was never in contention.

"We were flat," said Verbum Dei guard Andre Miller.

Akeli Jackson, a 6-foot-8 senior who will play at Cal State Long Beach, had a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds for Serra.

Jackson and Roderick Swift, who had 13 points, led a 10-1 run midway through the second quarter to help Serra extend a 27-19 lead to 37-20 with three minutes left in the first half.

"All we had to was stop their big man and we couldn't do it," said Verbum Dei forward Dion Jackson. "We came out slow and couldn't come back because we just didn't play our game."

The Eagles narrowed a 41-29 halftime deficit to 45-36 on a two free throws by Jamal Cobbs with five minutes left in the third quarter.

However, Akeli Jackson made two baskets in a row to start a 10-2 run that gave Serra a 57-38 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Cavaliers avenged a four-game losing streak to the Eagles dating to 1991 and won their first title after falling in championship games to Mater Dei in 1985 and Crossroads last season.

"We didn't want to go out without ever beating Verbum Dei," Jackson said. "We were looking forward to playing Crossroads, but since we were playing Verbum Dei this was even better. Now we have bragging rights forever."

Miller and Dion Jackson, who had 10 rebounds, had a team-high 12 points for Verbum Dei, which defeated defending champion Crossroads in a semifinal Tuesday.

Serra quickly extinguished any hopes of a Verbum Dei title by scoring the first six points in the opening 33 seconds and building an 18-6 lead with 3:39 to play in the first quarter.

"They didn't do anything that really surprised us. We just got caught up in the whole thing," said Verbum Dei Coach Mike Kearney.

The Eagles scored eight consecutive points over the next two minutes to cut the deficit to 20-14, but never got any closer.

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