Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight, shown during a game earlier this month, will… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Get ready for an invasion of fans from Santa Ana Mater Dei next weekend in Sacramento. They're going to be coming by car, bus and planes wearing red and feeling pumped.
The youthful Monarchs took their first lead over Corona Centennial with 55 seconds left in the third quarter and never let up in a 76-64 victory at USC's Galen Center on Saturday, qualifying them for the chance to play for an eighth state championship in boys' basketball.
In winning the Southern California Regional Division I championship, Mater Dei (31-3) defied all odds and turned conventional wisdom upside down.
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Centennial (30-5) was the team with energy and experience, but it was the Monarchs who displayed a hop in their step in the second half while turning to a 14-year-old freshman, Stanley Johnson, to lead the way. Johnson scored 14 points and had 12 rebounds on the night.
This has to be the most unlikely of trips for Coach Gary McKnight, whose team will meet Concord De La Salle at the Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento on Saturday. Last week, the Monarchs eliminated Southern Section 1AA champion Long Beach Poly. On Saturday, they took down the team that had beaten them in the 1AA semifinals.
"It's such a young team to make this run in the playoffs," McKnight said. "It's very special."
The momentum changed in the third quarter after Centennial built a 34-27 halftime lead. The Huskies looked tired. Their pressure defense was missing. And the 6-foot-5 Johnson began to make an impact inside.
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When Eli Stalzer made a three-pointer to give Mater Dei its first lead at 45-42, the Monarchs never looked back.
It could be a private-school convention in Sacramento. Of the 20 boys' and girls' teams in next weekend's state championships, 17 are from private schools.
It was a tough ending for Centennial, which received 20 points from Dominique Dunning and 19 from Michel Caffey.
All day, teams were struggling from three-point range. San Diego Lincoln was four for 22. La Cañada was two for 12. La Verne Lutheran was one for nine. And even the usually accurate Huskies struggled, making six of 25.