SANTA ANA -- If crowd murmurs were any indication, the showdown between defending state champions exceeded expectations Saturday night. Mater Dei fans hoping for yet another Monarchs blowout were in for a reality check.
The tension built but it subsided quickly.
Top-ranked Mater Dei beat La Verne Lutheran, 71-66, to successfully defend its home court in the 17th annual Nike Extravaganza, but the margin was too close for the red-clad fans. The Monarchs had won their previous eight games by an average of 30 points but trailed the Trojans early in the fourth quarter.
Mater Dei (22-2), the defending CIF Division I state champion, used one of its patented runs to pull away. Senior guard Eli Stalzer sank a jumper, forward Stanley Johnson had a monstrous breakaway dunk and Jordan Strawberry nailed a runner to create some space. The final minute turned into a free-throw shooting contest, but the Monarchs passed that test.
Ninth-ranked La Verne Lutheran (18-6), a two-time defending state titlist, showed the crowd why it has been successful in recent years. Junior guard Eric Cooper had a game-high 21 points and wing Cameron Osorno added 12.
Senior forward Grant Jerrett gave Lutheran a brief two-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but he was never heard from again. Mater Dei denied the post, forcing low-percentage shots from the perimeter. Jerrett, an Arizona signee and arguably the Southland's best prep player, had only seven points and six boards.
"We had to box out this big 6-foot-10 dude over here," said Xavier Johnson, who led Mater Dei with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Katin Reinhardt had 17 points, and Stanley Johnson pitched in with 10 and 11 boards.
Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.