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SOUTHERN SECTION FINALS : Verbum Dei Wins 1st Title Since 1979


The words were different, but Andre Miller and Damian Cantrell had the same idea.

"I thought I should take over," said Miller of Verbum Dei High.

"I just wanted the ball," affirmed Cantrell of Oxnard Santa Clara.

The two seniors got their wishes. But missed shots proved the difference as the Eagles overcame the Saints, 71-65, to win the Southern Section Division 4-A championship Friday night at the UC Irvine Bren Center.

Miller, a 6-foot-2 guard, scored a team-high 32 points, including 24 in the first half when the Eagles took a 44-34 lead at intermission.

But in the second half, the 6-4 Cantrell scored 21 of his 37 points, including eight in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, to put the Saints ahead, 59-58.

Verbum Dei then went on a decisive 10-2 run to take a 70-63 lead with 29 seconds left.

Miller, who guarded Cantrell in the fourth quarter, was impressed by his opponent. "He took it to me," said Miller, who shot 12-of-21 and grabbed 10 rebounds. "He wasn't afraid to play and he took it to the basket."

Cantrell made 16 of 31 shots.

Said Eagle Coach Mike Kearney: "I did catch on to (Miller's) ear about trying to stop this kid."

Verbum Dei, which lost CIF title games in 1990 (Santa Clara), 1991 (Santa Clara) and 1993 (Serra), won its first championship since 1979.

A considerable free throw disparity cost the Saints, who made seven of nine; the Eagles hit 13 of 19.

"I think we didn't get some breaks on some calls," said Lou Cvijanovich, who has coached the Saints to 13 titles in 36 seasons. But, he said, "Everybody in the stands thought when we got down by 10 we'd get blown out. That wasn't the case."

Cvijanovich made a defensive switch to start the second half, putting 6-3 senior Jess Pena on Miller, replacing the slower Cantrell.

Miller scored only eight points after the break.

Jamal Cobbs scored 17 points and Deon Williams added 10 for the Eagles. Pena, who had 10, was the only other Saint besides Cantrell to score in double figures.

But it came down to a game of two.

Said Cvijanovich: "It's always exciting to see outstanding basketball players. We had one and they had one."

Records: Verbum Dei 24-2; Santa Clara 19-8.

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