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Lady Crusaders finish second in CIF Open Division final, set sights on state playoffs next Phillip Brents | Mon, Mar 10 2014 07:08 PM

The Mater Dei Catholic High School girls basketball team appeared to have everything going its way after the conclusion of the opening quarter of Saturday’s Open Division championship game at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion.

The Metro-Mesa League champion Crusaders, seeded third in this year’s San Diego Section playoffs, held a 12-8 lead over the top-seeded Bishop’s Knights, a longtime adversary among elite private school programs.

The wheels didn’t exactly come off the Mater Dei Catholic cart, but the Knights did come back to post a 53-47 title game victory.

“It was a great season,” Crusaders coach David Monroe said after the game. “You always want to win a championship but we kind of let them back in the game. We missed a lot of shots and got into foul trouble. We lost our post girl and they started scoring down low.

“But we still had chances to win the game.”

Still, Monroe pointed out, the season was not quite over. Mater Dei Catholic secured a berth in the state regional playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the Division IV field, hosting 11th-seeded Fullerton Rosary in Wednesday’s opening round.

Kandiss Barber had seven of the Crusaders’ 12 points in the opening quarter while Kristine Sellona had four points and Olusola Smith sank one free-throw.

Both teams shot less than spectacularly from the floor in the opening half, with Mater Dei Catholic playing less ugly and holding an eight-point halftime lead, 26-18.

But the second half belonged to Bishop’s. The Knights (27-5) went on a 19-6 scoring run in the third quarter to erase the Crusaders’ lead and position themselves to claim the division title.

Barber led all scorers in the game with 26 points while Sellona dropped in 12 points in the loss. Also scoring in the title game for MDCHS were Kelsey Munoz (four points), Olusola Smith (three points) and Onjalise Carley-Hillard (two points).

The Crusaders (23-7) did a lot of things right, especially winning the rebound war. Mater Dei Catholic collected a staggering 64 rebounds to 48 for Bishop’s, with Barber pacing her team with 14 boards, Carley-Hillard with 11 and Smith with 10.

But long-range shooting proved to be the team’s undoing, as the Crusaders sank just one of 17 three-point attempts.

Mater Dei Catholic also committed 18 turnovers in the game to 14 for the Knights.

Bishop’s out-scored the runner-up Crusaders 35-21 in the second half. Mater Dei Catholic could only hold down the Knights’ scoring machine for so long, as it turned out.

Destiny Littleton and Imani Littleton each scored 17 points to lead Bishop’s. Imani Littleton led the Knights with 16 rebounds.

Monroe, whose 2009 state championship squad, failed to win a section title but went on to make mush of their state playoff opponents, remained philosophical after Saturday’s Open Division finale.

“There’s always next week in the state playoffs,” he said.

The Crusaders began that journey with Wednesday’s opening-round game against visiting Rosary (17-14).

Opening-round winners advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals, followed by the semifinals on Tuesday, March 18, regional finals on March 22 and the state championship game March 29 in Sacramento.

Gardena Serra earned the No. 1 seed in the SoCal regionals, while Sunset League champion Ocean View Christian, a semifinalist in the section’s Division IV playoffs, received the No. 13 seed and an opening-round game at fourth-seeded San Juan Capistrano JSerra.

Barbers leads Mater Dei Catholic in season scoring with 19.6 points per game and ranks third on the team with 7.2 rebounds per game.

Sellona ranks second in team scoring on the season with 10.8 points per game

Carley-Hillard tops the Crusaders with an 8.4 rebounding average, followed by Smith with a 7.4 rebound average.

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