Mater Dei Catholic High School boys basketball coach Kenny Caesar and his team would likely have drawn a different ending for last Friday’s San Diego Section Division IV championship game encounter against the top-seeded Army-Navy Academy Warriors.
After all, the second-seeded Crusaders shocked television viewers by bounding out to a quick 9-2 lead, led the vaunted Warriors 15-8 at the end of the first quarter, owned a 23-21 halftime lead and, drum roll, built a 10-point advantage — 35-25 — when Spencer Vering drained a shot from the top of the key with 4:40 to play in the third quarter.
Instead, Mater Dei Catholic’s trip to the CIF finals at SDSU’s Viejas Arena (the first for a Crusader team since 2001) mostly ended in nightmarish fashion in a 56-50 setback to the Carlsbad-based team.
“In games like these, teams make runs,” Caesar said as several of his players fought back tears. “We made a run at the end.”
But the Mesa League champs couldn’t complete it.
Led by two Senegalese imports — seven-foot-one senior Cheikh N’Diaye and six-foot-six senior Akhadj Diatta — the Warriors eventually took advantage of their height and drew an assist from the officiating crew at the free-throw line to explode on an 18-1 run to lead 51-41 with 3:33 to play.
But the Crusaders decided they weren’t finished yet. Mater Dei woke up its fans with a 9-0 run to pull to within one point — 51-50 — with 1:28 left.
Iman Chatman-Dixon sank two treys in a one-minute span to pull the South County ballers close. But untimely turnovers in the final minute doomed them to defeat.
Lay-ins off steals by N’Diaye and junior Devin Watson upped Army-Navy’s lead to 55-50 with 31 seconds to go. Kendrick Azubuike dropped in a free-throw with 24.3 seconds left to add insult to injury.
Caesar admitted playing against N’Diaye was problematical for his team. In fact, N’Diaye didn’t even have to jump to collect rebounds or block shots. He simply stood his ground and held out his tree branches for arms.
N’Diaye had 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“He obviously posed a problem any time you have a seven-footer on the floor,” the MDCHS coach said. “But, for us, it came down to foul trouble.”
Junior Devin Watson led ANA with 22 points and four treys. His accuracy down the stretch run proved deadly.
The Warriors (27-4) were at the foul line almost from the start of the game and that played a huge factor in the contest’s outcome. Fifteen of Army-Navy’s 56 points came on shots from the charity stripe.
Warrior players shot a staggering 28 free throw attempts in the game; the Crusaders (25-6) were granted just six free-throws.
“It was frustrating because we were in foul trouble,” said Chatman-Dixon, who led all players on the court with a game-high 25 points.
Vering totaled 11 points while Lorenzo Eribez had five points.
The Crusaders’ 20 turnovers hurt most.
Despite the setback in the section final, the Crusaders still commanded enough respect to earn the No. 8 seed and a home game against No. 9 seed Brentwood in Wednesday’s opening round of the Southern California regional championships.
Mater Dei Catholic won, 62-58, to draw a trip to No. 1 seed Gardena Serra (25-6) on Saturday. Chatman-Dixon led the Crusaders with 19 points but it was Javier Guerrero’s free-throw with two seconds to play that secured the win.
Crusader kickers fall short in CIF final to #1 Islanders
The Mater Dei Catholic High School boys soccer team fell short in its quest to capture this year’s San Diego Section Division IV championship despite scoring the first goal in last Saturday’s CIF final at Del Norte High School.
Mauricio Rodriguez scored in the fourth minute to stake the third-seeded Crusaders (12-6-4) to an early 1-0 advantage. But the top-seeded Islanders, laden with 13 seniors, countered with four unanswered goals to post a 4-1 championship game victory. Drew Maracle led Coronado (22-2-2) with two goals.