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Slam and jam: Crusader hoop men are headed to CIF title game Phillip Brents | Wed, Feb 27 2013 10:30 PM

The last few minutes of Wednesday’s San Diego Section boys basketball playoff game inside Mater Dei Catholic High School’s gymnasium were intense. The last few seconds were simply surreal for the host Crusaders.

Braced by 17 points from Iman Chatman-Dixon and 13 points from Robert Harris, second-seeded Mater Dei Catholic defeated the third-seeded Francis Parker Lancers, 49-43, in a Division IV semifinal game.

Though the Crusader nickname was carried over from the school’s previous incarnation as Marian Catholic High School in south San Diego; this is the first time a boys hoops team from Mater Dei Catholic High School has qualified for a CIF championship final.

And the celebration commenced shortly after Harris dropped in a pair of foul shots with five seconds left to expand on a narrow four-point Crusader lead.

The public address announcer urged fans to stay off the court; they did until the final buzzer. After that, the shiny hardwood surface disappeared beneath a horde of onrushing screaming teenagers.

It was unquestionably the reigning Mesa League champions’ finest moment at the east side Chula Vista campus.

“We set a goal at the beginning of the season, we talked about it all season and we did it,” Chatman-Dixon said. “We knew we just had to play hard. We knew they were going to make a run. We just had to play as a team.”

Mater Dei Catholic will meet top-seeded Army-Navy Academy (25-4) in the Division IV championship game Friday, March 1, at 1:07 p.m. at SDSU’s Viejas Arena.

The Crusaders are the lone South County basketball team to qualify for this year’s section finals.
MDC coach Kenny Caesar said his team — 25-5 on the season — won’t settle for just being happy to get to the championship game. The Crusaders want to win it.

“We treat every game as if it were our last game,” Caesar said. “We’ve got to play as a team and do what we do best.”

Some ragged play toward the end almost cost Caesar’s team. The Lancers (16-12) went on a collective heist of the basketball in the closing minutes, paring a 10-point lead with 2:29 to play in the fourth quarter to just four points (46-42) with 1:51 left.

The visitors looked like they were ready to pull out an upset win when Andrew Cross stole the ball and broke free toward the unguarded hoop as the clock ticked under one minute. But his shot somehow missed the basket to the relief of the home fans.

And to the dismay of the visitors.

Parker, which entered the fourth quarter down 37-36 on a last-second trey by Khaleel Jenkins, refused to fold, however. Chatman-Dixon missed a free throw shot with 33 seconds left, leaving the hosts clinging to their tenuous four-point lead.

MDC’s Spencer Vering then stuffed a Lancer shot under the basket with 15 seconds left. He was fouled after grabbing the rebound and sank two shots at the other end of the court to preserve the win.

 Caesar singled out the play of Harris as being decisive in the outcome. “He got rebounds, he scored points for us, he played great defense,” the MDC coach said. “But everyone played well.”

Chatman-Dixon delivered a crowd-pleasing slam-dunk to ignite his team in the third quarter. “It gives our team energy, a boost,” he said.

Certainly, the team took a more up-tempo approach to Wednesday’s game after easing past seventh-seeded Coronado, 48-42, in Saturday’s quarterfinals. The Crusaders tipped off the playoffs with a 93-13 first round victory against visiting High Tech North County on Feb. 20.

“We were mentally prepared for this game,” Vering said. “We just wanted to go out and play.”

And play again they will — for the CIF title.

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