Corona Centennial's Dominic Dunlap, right, defends against Taft's… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
The first quarter was like a nightmare for Santa Ana Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight. From then on, however, his team played about as well as he could have dreamed.
The Monarchs overcame a dreadful start to stun top-seeded Long Beach Poly, 72-55, in a Division I semifinal of the Southern California regional playoffs Saturday night at Long Beach City College.
Fourth-seeded Mater Dei (30-3) did not score its first basket until Katin Reinhardt's jump shot in the lane with 1:25 left in the first quarter, and by that time, the Monarchs were behind, 13-1. Poly led, 19-6, after the first eight minutes and appeared poised for a runaway victory.
"It looked like we were young and gun-shy in the first quarter, but I think our guys got mad and said 'We're not going to be embarrassed,'" McKnight said. "We started changing things up; we threw [man] defense at them; we did different things to confuse them, and it was working."
Mater Dei earned the chance to avenge its 60-58 loss to Corona Centennial in the Southern Section Division 1AA semifinals. The teams will meet for the regional championship Saturday at the Galen Center.
"We wanted this game. We couldn't lose for the seniors," Reinhardt said. "I told my teammates afterward that this is how it should've been in the [CIF] championship. They [Centennial] stole it from us. . . . That's our mentality. If we play this way offensively and defensively, we will definitely beat that team."
Reinhardt hit four three-pointers on his way to 24 points, and Xavier Johnson added 15 points before fouling out with 4:05 left and the Monarchs ahead, 58-46.
Mater Dei outscored Poly, 22-8, in the second quarter, and Eli Stalzer's putback with 19 seconds left gave the Monarchs a 28-27 halftime lead.
Jordan Strawberry appeared to score on a putback at the buzzer ending the third quarter that would have extended Mater Dei's lead to 54-46, but the officials conferred and waved the basket off.
No matter. The Monarchs took a 12-point lead with 5:20 left, and Poly never got within single digits the rest of the game.
Alex Carmon had 15 points, and Ryan Anderson had 13 for Poly (31-2), but USC-bound point guard Alexis Moore was held to nine points, including a jumper at the buzzer to end the first quarter.
— Steve Galluzzo
Corona Centennial 94, Woodland Hills Taft 81: Gelaun Wheelwright and Dominique Dunning were smiling so much you would have thought they were at a party.
They and their Corona Centennial teammates had every reason to celebrate with a stunningly good performance during their triumph over Woodland Hills Taft in a Southern California Division I regional semifinal at Corona Roosevelt.
"We just couldn't defend them," Taft Coach Derrick Taylor said.
Centennial (30-4) made 33 of 49 shots, including 11 three-pointers, and had all five starters reach double figures in scoring, led by Wheelwright, who had 27 points and made six three-pointers.
Dunning had 21 points, Michael Caffey 14, Dominic Dunlap 13 and Deion Reynolds 11.
It was a shooting performance that left the City Section Division I champion Toreadors (29-3) with a helpless feeling.
It started with Centennial making nine of 11 shots to take a 24-9 lead.
Wheelwright, who had been committed to USC until they parted ways and is now committed to Weber State, has been surging during the state playoffs.
He had games of 31 and 38 points earlier this week.
— Eric Sondheimer