The Mater Dei Catholic High School basketball teams, fresh off an appearance in last weekend’s San Diego Section championship games at the University of San Diego’s Jenny Craig Pavilion, swept an opening-round state regional double-header Wednesday at the school’s Chula Vista campus.
The Lady Crusaders, who finished runner-up in last Saturday’s section Open Division final to The Bishop’s School, defeated the visiting Fullerton Rosary Royals, 48-44, in the first game of Wednesday’s twin bill.
Meanwhile, the MDCHS boys team — reigning section Division II champions — turned up the intensity level in the second half of its game against the Tustin Tillers to send the home fans out of the gym with smiling faces after securing a come-from-behind 59-50 victory.
Both Crusader squads advance to Saturday’s state regional quarterfinals.
The fourth-seeded MDCHS boys squad (29-2) will host fifth-seeded Calabasas (28-5) after the Coyotes topped 12th-seeded Sylmar, 57-54, in Wednesday’s opener; while the sixth-seeded MDCHS girls team will play a road match at third-seeded Bishop Montgomery (24-8) after the Knights crushed 14th-seeded Exeter, 61-25, in their opener.
Tip-off for both games is 6 p.m.
The state regional semifinals follow on Tuesday, March 18, with the Southern California regional championship game scheduled for March 22.
The state title game, pitting winners from the Northern California and Southern California regionals, will take place March 29.
Both games on Wednesday were close at halftime, with the Crusaders holding a 17-14 edge in the girls game and Mater Dei Catholic’s boys team trailing 23-22.
The Division IV girls game featured a lot of missed shots by both teams, but especially by the hosts, who seemed content to repeat the type of performance that led to Saturday’s title game setback to the Knights.
In fact, it took a great individual effort by Crusader junior Onjalise Carley-Hillard in the dying seconds to rescue her team from potential disaster against a hard-charging 11th-seeded Royals squad (17-15).
Carley-Hillard grabbed a rebound under the Rosary basket, put in a shot and was fouled in the process to complete a three-point play with 21 seconds left in regulation. That gave the hosts a critical 47-44 lead after the Royals had closed to within a point, 45-44, with 47 seconds to play.
Mater Dei Catholic sophomore Jordan Brasfield then collected a loose ball in the Crusader defensive end with two ticks left on the clock. She sank one foul shot for the final four-point winning edge.
“We’re playing in some kind of funk right now,” Crusader girls coach David Monroe said candidly after the game. “I don’t understand it. We’re going to have to play better in our next game or we won’t be able to advance in the state playoffs. It was an ugly win for us, a win, but ugly.
“We’re going to figure out what’s wrong in practice and fix it.”
Scoring leaders for MDCHS (24-8) included Kandiss Barber with 16 points and Brasfield and Kristine Sellona each with 10 points.
In the Division II boys nightcap, there had to be some anxious moments after the visiting Tillers took a 16-9 lead in the opening quarter. But the Crusaders played a patient game and out-scored Tustin in each of the remaining three quarters.
The game was low-scoring in the first half, but proved to be more wide open in the second half.
Mater Dei Catholic opened up a 38-30 lead heading into the final quarter.
“We’re more experienced than last year, the guys have a little more confidence in playing from behind, they don’t panic, and I think that’s due to the experience factor,” Crusader boys coach Kenny Caesar noted. “We got a feel for what their offense was trying to do in our zone and made some adjustments.”
Freshman Jaylen Hands came up huge by sinking a pair of three-point bombs in the final minute of the third quarter to give his team a boost after the visitors had tied the game at 28-28 on a put-back by six-foot-five Rob Nelsen.
Nelsen was the most conspicuous player on the court, wearing a face-mask to protect an injury. He was also the most dangerous, finishing with a game-high 22 points before leaving the game with 1:16 to play with his team trailing 55-43.
Clutch free-throw shooting by Robert Harris and key buckets by teammates Iman Chatman, Israel Seales and Johnathan Dutra down the final minutes allowed the hosts to expand their lead.
Seales led the Crusaders with 17 points while Hands finished with 15 points, Dutra had 10 points and Harris had eight points. Spencer Vering also contributed four points to the winning effort.
“Jaylen hit some points that got us going,” Caesaer said. “Their plan was to stop our post. But Jaylen opened it up, and it was hard for them to close it.”
State playoffs include Lutheran, Ocean View Christian
The 2014-14 high school basketball season wasn’t quite over yet for both the Ocean View Christian Academy Patriots girls and Lutheran Knights boys teams despite bowing out in the semifinal round of the recent San Diego Section playoffs.
The Patriots, seeded second in the Division IV field, dropped a 33-28 decision to sixth-seeded Point Loma on March 4 while the Knights, seeded fifth in the Division V field, fell by a score of 38-36 to top-seeded Escondido Adventist on March 1.
Point Loma went on to capture the division title with a 43-36 victory against fifth-seeded Hoover last Friday while Escondido Adventist stopped third-seeded Health Sciences, 53-32, in the division final on March 6.
It has been customary for both division finalists to earn berths in the ensuing state regional playoffs. It’s not ironclad, especially in sorting out teams in the higher enrollment levels with the new Open Division in place. But there always seems to be spots open for additional at-large entries at the lower enrollment levels, and it’s not surprising to see a team that had been eliminated in the section semifinals get a second chance at post-season action in the state playoffs.
Such was the case with both Ocean View Christian Academy (17-4) and Lutheran (16-8).
The Patriots received the No. 13 seed in the Southern California Division IV girls regional playoff field while the Knights were seeded 12th in the Division V boys regional bracket.
Both teams tipped off first-round play on Wednesday, with Lutheran dropping an 88-49 match-up at fifth-seeded Saddleback Valley Christian (26-6) in San Juan Capistrano while the Patriots closed out their season with a 69-4 loss at fourth-seeded San Juan Capistrano JSerra (22-10).
A Knights tale
Lutheran enjoyed one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Knights finished regular season play 15-7, including a 5-3 mark in Sunset League play, before recording a mild upset victory in the quarterfinal-round of the playoffs by topping fourth-seeded Vista Calvary Christian Academy 62-40.
The Knights tied for second place in the league standings with Chula Vista Calvary Christian Academy behind league champion Foothills Christian, a semifinalist in the section Division III playoffs.
Lutheran six-foot-one junior Mohammad Al-Asady ranked second in league scoring to Foothills’ six-foot-nine giant T.J. Leaf with an average of 15.9 points per game while junior teammate Jordan Brown (5-7) ranked fourth in the league with a 13.0 scoring average.
The Knights’ trio of Josh Powers (10.7), Nick Allsing (8.1) and Miguel Valdez (7.9) ranked second, third and fourth in league rebounding while Brown (5.7) and teammate James Watts (3.5) ranked third and fourth, respectively, in assists per game.
Brown (3.3), Al-Asady (2.9) and teammate Kevin Gunn (2.7) additionally ranked second, third and fourth in the league in steals per game.
Powers (3.2) ranked second in the league in blocks per game, followed by Allsing (fourth, 1.5) and Valdez (fifth, 1.2).
Leaf topped the Sunset League statistical chart in four of the five categories with 26.5 points-per-game, 12.5 rebounds-per-game, 7.3 assists-per-game and 3.8 blocks per game.
Expect to hear more from Lutheran next season: Powers (6-7) and Allsing (6-3) are both juniors while Watts (5-10) and Gunn (6-2) are both sophomores. Valdez (6-4) is the team’s lone graduating senior.
Al-Asady led Lutheran with 19 points in the playoff win over Vista Calvary Christian while Brown, Watts and Valdez each had 10 points.
Ocean View Christian, meanwhile, emerged with the Sunset League title in 2013-14 after finishing 8-0 against league foes.
Senior guard Sabrina Johnson paced the league in four of five statistical categories: 17.0 rebounds-per game, 6.2 assists-per-game, 5.7 steals-per-game and 2.5 blocks-per-game. She finished third in league scoring with 15.0 points-per-game behind Foothills’ Christina Buksa (first, 23.2 ppg) and Calvary Christian’s Nicole Handloser (second, 20.1 ppg).