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SOUTHERN SECTION BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS : Buena Gives Mater Dei a Lesson in Winning : Division I-A girls: Monarchs lose, 50-41, and must hope for at-large berth in State tournament.


VENTURA — Breaking into the exclusive, reward-filled world of championship teams is often a daunting task, even for the most exciting, talented newcomers.

And while rising teams sometimes stumble in their first pursuit of a championship, the trips are definitely worthwhile.

Just ask the Mater Dei High girls' basketball team.

Making their first appearance in a Southern Section title event, the Monarchs lost, 50-41, to perennial power Ventura Buena in the Division I-A championship game Friday night in front of a crowd of 2,000 at Ventura College.

But don't shed tears for the Monarchs; they don't want them.

"There's that old saying that winning is about an attitude, and when you're used to winning you keep winning because you know how," Mater Dei Coach Mary Hauser said. "Buena's kids are used to the pressure of playing in big games and winning big games because they've been here so many times before.

"We're not used to this because this was our first experience in a game like this, but we've learned a lot. We've got a lot of young players on our team and this will help us in the future."

Said Monarch sophomore guard Melody Peterson: "We were a little bit overwhelmed, but we won't be next time."

The title is the second in a row for defending champion and top-seeded Buena (24-2), and the fourth in school history. Buena, which has appeared in five consecutive title games and 10 overall, defeated Thousand Oaks, 44-43, for the division championship last season.

The Bulldogs qualified for the Southern California Regional of the State tournament beginning Tuesday. The Monarchs (24-4), who were seeded third in the Division I-A playoffs, must wait to see if their season continues.

South Coast League champion Mater Dei might earn an at-large berth, which will be announced Sunday.

"They've got a lot of very good young players," Buena Coach Joe Vaughan said of Mater Dei. "Our experience helped us, but they have a great team; they'll be back."

The Bulldogs' experience was evident from the outset.

Buena used a precise half-court passing game, which eventually broke the Monarchs' concentration and led to one easy layup after another. Buena's methodical approach also affected Mater Dei, which prefers a faster-paced game, on offense.

"They definitely scouted us well," Hauser said. "They kept on passing, and passing until they had the ball in the right place at the right time, then we had breakdowns."

The key stretch occurred between the last few seconds of the second quarter and the early moments of the third quarter.

Buena sophomore guard Kori Sebek (eight points, five steals) scored on a layup as she was fouled by the Monarchs' Michelle Meyers with only three seconds remaining in the second quarter. She made the free throw to give the Bulldogs their largest lead of the game to that point, 23-18.

The Bulldogs then picked up the defensive pressure, both half court and full court, in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Their 9-2 third-quarter run was capped by a layup by sophomore guard Eboni Conley (nine points, five steals) with 5:18 remaining in the quarter, and put the Bulldogs ahead by 12, 32-20.

The Monarchs were unable to get the ball inside to Leticia Oseguera, their senior center and leading scorer. Buena limited Oseguera, who averages 18.4 points, to eight.

"It just seemed like there were three people around me every time I had the ball," Oseguera said. "It was really hard to shoot with so many people around the ball."

The Bulldogs' primary defensive stopper on Oseguera was Michelle Giordano, who led all scorers with 18 points. Giordano also ended the Monarchs' attempt to rally in the fourth quarter.

Mater Dei cut Buena's lead to seven, 44-37, on two free throws by Peterson (10 points, nine rebounds, five steals) with 2:26 to play. But Giordano scored on a layup with 2:15 remaining to put Buena ahead by nine, 46-37, and seal the game.

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