As the clock ticked down in Tuesday’s San Diego Section Division III boys basketball semifinal contest, members of the host Sweetwater Red Devils passed along a keepsake from the school’s last CIF title-winning team in 1990: the remnants of the net cut from the rim.
Players had to be clutching it somewhat nervously in the final minutes of what turned out to be an intense showdown between the top-seeded (and undefeated) Devils and the fourth-seeded Foothills Christian Knights.
But the net eventually turned into a magic charm as the hosts suddenly regained the momentum they had lost to post a dramatic 61-54 win.
The victory pushes Sweetwater (28-0) into Friday’s division championship game against the second-seeded Kearny Komets. Tip-off is 3 p.m. at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion.
“The coach showed it to us in the locker room before the game and told us how we were just two games away from getting another one,” said SuHi senior Spencer Mattox, who dropped in a game-high 29 points.
The Devils broke out to an early 7-0 lead and used their high-pressure defense to build a 30-16 advantage with change left in the second quarter.
But the Knights, led by six-foot-nine sophomore T.J. Leaf and several other trees, never gave up and whittled the score down to 57-54 with 2:16 to play in the game.
But clutch free-throw shooting by the hosts — Mattox sank eight of 11 shots from the charity stripe in the second half and the Devils were 23-of-28 overall — proved to be the team’s saving grace.
C.J. Cadua, who scored 12 points, and teammate Raven Middleton also sank key free-throws in the late going.
Mattox, who proudly wore the 1990 net around his neck after the game, admitted the Knights (20-9) came the closest to ending his team’s undefeated season.
“It was by far our toughest game,” said Mattox, who scored 30 points in Sweetwater’s 73-64 quarterfinal win over visiting Valhalla on Saturday. “But I think we responded well. They had a run to cut the score to three points, but we kept our composure.
Leaf, who scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, fouled out with three minutes to play to the delight of Devil fans. Senior guard Caleb Hoffman, however, re-energized his team in the absence of the dominating Leaf with 16 points and seven rebounds.
But it was Mattox, Sweetwater's all-time leading scorer, who squarely put his team on his shoulders in Tuesday's exciting contest played in front of a packed gym.
"I've always dreamed of this, and as the season went on, it appeared more realistic. I mean, 28-0. It’s crazy.”
The Red Devils will be joined in this weekend’s CIF finals by two other South County teams: the reigning Metro-Mesa League champion Mater Dei Catholic boys and girls squads.
The top-seeded Crusaders boys squad (27-2) will play second-seeded Francis Parker (25-4) in Friday’s Division II championship tilt at USD after eliminating 13th-seeded Mt. Carmel (10-21) in Tuesday’s semifinals by a score of 75-51.
Tip-off for Friday’s championship contest is 6 p.m.
The third-seeded Mater Dei Catholic girls team will play top-seeded Bishop’s in Saturday’s Open Division title game after eliminating second-seeded Mt. Miguel, 51-41, in Wednesday’s semifinals.
Tip-off for Saturday’s championship game is 6 p.m.
Iman Chatman led the Crusaders with a game-high 16 points in Tuesday’s semifinal win while teammates Jonathon Dutra and Jaylen Hands dropped in 14 and 12 points respectively.
Mater Dei Catholic, which topped eighth-seeded Serra by a score of 68-43 in Saturday’s quarterfinals behind 18 points from Hands, 16 points from Israel Seales and 15 points from Robert Harris, remains undefeated against San Diego Section competition in 2013-14.
“The core of seniors on the boys team have been playing together since they were freshmen at Mater Dei and, after their runner-up finish last year in the finals, they feel this is their year to bring home the trophy,” MDCHS athletic director Bill Gerken said. “They have grown as a team and want to win as a team.
Mater Dei Catholic was the only girls team from the Metro Conference to be included in the section’s inaugural Open Division class, and the Crusaders were admitted after petitioning to move up from their initial placement in a lower division under the new competitive ranking system used by section.
The objective was to play the best teams in the section — and in the regional state playoffs.
The Crusaders represented themselves well while posting a 21-6 regular season record to earn the No. 3 seed in the elite eight-team division and a berth opposite sixth-seeded Serra in last Friday’s opening quarterfinals.
Mater Dei Catholic head coach David Monroe called it an “honor” to be included in the Open Division field but in the same breath also termed it a “challenge.”
The Crusaders advanced to Wednesday’s semifinal showdown against the Matadors after tipping off quarterfinal play with a 60-49 victory against visiting Serra.
Wednesday’s victory made amends for a hotly contested 47-45 overtime setback to the Matadors in a non-league played on Feb. 15.
Senior guard Kandiss Barber led her team with 18 points and 15 rebounds while sophomore teammate Jordan Brasfield dropped in 16 points.
In the quarterfinal win, Barber led the hosts with 18 points while junior Kristine Sellona added 16 points. Senior Olusola Smith led the victor’s defensive effort with 11 rebounds.
Barber leads the Crusaders with a 19.6 points-per-game scoring average.
After finishing Sunset League play undefeated at 8-0 and compiling a 15-2 regular season record, the Ocean View Christian Academy Patriots were rewarded with the No. 2 seed in the Division IV girls playoff field.
The Patriots upheld that lofty ranking with two post-season victories to advance to Wednesday’s division semifinal game against third-seeded Point Loma, but could not get past the Pointers (18-8) after ending an otherwise standout 17-3 season with a 33-28 loss.
Ocean View Christian, which finished runner-up to Tri-City Christian in the 2012 finals, advanced to Wednesday’s semifinals after topping visiting Crawford, 42-26, in a quarterfinal elimination game last Friday.
Genesis Lepe led the hosts with 15 points while teammate Sabrina Johnson tacked on 11 points and collected a team-high 15 rebounds.
In the Lady Pats’ 46-20 opening round victory against visiting Holtville on Feb. 25, Johnson led her team with 13 points and 20 rebounds while Lepe tacked on 11 points.
Johnson had 11 points and 11 rebounds in Wednesday’s semifinal loss to lead Ocean View Christian. She keyed the Patriots in both scoring (15.0 ppg) and rebounds (17.0 rpg) this season.