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Notre Dame Makes a Statement, 58-47

Division III-AA boys' basketball: Revitalized Knights zone out La Canada and qualify for state tournament.


SHERMAN OAKS — Rob DiMuro, Notre Dame High's boys' basketball coach, deserves an award for perseverance during hard times.

Only a few weeks ago, the Knights were on the verge of being the region's biggest underachievers. They were the top-ranked team in the region before the season but lost three of four Mission League games and looked like a team in turmoil.

The players didn't panic and the coach didn't retreat. On Tuesday night, the Knights showed how far they have come, winning their sixth consecutive game and earning a berth to the state playoffs with a 58-47 victory over La Canada in a quarterfinal game of the Southern Section Division III-AA playoffs.

Cody Pearson and Michael Luderer each scored 17 points for Notre Dame (23-5), which will play top-seeded Bishop Montgomery in Friday's semifinals.

In a way, the Knights' midseason struggles might have been a blessing, for it forced them to get more players involved in their attack other than Pearson and Luderer, and that's what saved them against La Canada (22-7).

Luderer and Pearson were a combined four for 17 shooting in the first half, but Notre Dame stayed within 26-24. Guards Ruben Sanchez and Derek Hennessy stepped forward to contribute key baskets.

Notre Dame didn't take its first lead until Pearson's three-point play with 6:27 made it 42-40.

DiMuro's decision to switch to a 1-3-1 zone defense in the fourth quarter left the Spartans baffled and ineffective. They were outscored, 22-8.

DiMuro put his centers, 6-foot-7 David Hungerford and 6-7 Stepney Johnson, on the court at the same time. Hungerford made a three-pointer and scored on an offensive rebound. Johnson made two free throws after being fouled on an offensive rebound.

"They wore us out," La Canada Coach Tom Hofman said. "Our shooters got tired. That zone was a good idea. We didn't see it in the first game and it slowed us down. That zone was the turning point of the game."

Robbie Neyland scored 12 points for La Canada, making four three-pointers. Philip Swenson also had 12 points.

The schools met in the championship game of the La Salle/Temple City tournament, with Notre Dame winning, 68-67. This time, the Knights pulled away with an 8-0 spurt that broke a 42-42 tie.

"This win means a lot," Hungerford said. "We were in the same position last year and lost by two points to Corona del Mar.

"This time we're all seniors and knew what we had to do."

DiMuro is proud of the way his players have responded.

"All year long, even when we had our crisis point, they pulled together," he said. "We came out of the tough stretch better off."

The Knights will be a heavy underdog against Bishop Montgomery, led by the USC-bound Craven twins.

Bishop Montgomery was an 80-35 quarterfinal winner over Pomona.

But Hofman, whose La Canada team lost to Bishop Montgomery in December, said don't count out Notre Dame.

"I think they can stay with Bishop Montgomery," he said.

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