ANAHEIM --Getting big performances from a number of players, including 18 points off the bench, Mater Dei won the showdown for girls' basketball national supremacy against Brea Olinda, 63-54, on Friday at Anaheim Convention Center Arena to capture the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA championship.
The title was the third in a row for Mater Dei, which entered the game as the No. 2 team in the country. The No. 1 team?
The Ladycats, like Mater Dei (29-1), were also going for their third consecutive section title. The Southern Regional finals begin next week and the regional finals — the likely rematch — will be March 19 at the Galen Center.
Kevin Kiernan, the coach of Mater Dei — his team won a state title last season—knows that these two teams probably will meet in the Southern Regional finals, but he was relishing the victory over such an accomplished program and putting off worry about the state tournament until Monday.
"These games are so hard," he said. "Mater Dei is a great school, a great program with great players. When you play a team like Brea with great kids, great talent, great coaching -- those are the gratifying moments."
That gratifying moment came after Brea (29-1) nearly came back from oblivion, cutting a 56-41 deficit with 6 minutes 2 seconds remaining to two possessions, 59-54, with 1:24 to go. But Brea, which wiped out most of a 12-point first-quarter deficit before halftime only to give up the first eight points of the third quarter, had the comeback end there with Keitra Wallace's final free throw. The Ladycats were 0 for 3 from the field while Mater Dei made four of six free-throws.
Mater Dei came into the game as the third-seeded team, but after Long Beach Poly — the only team to beat the Monarchs — was upset in the final seconds of its quarterfinal against Santa Monica — the Brea-Mater Dei showdown became inevitable.
Mater Dei got much more balanced scoring. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 16, Alexyz Vaioletama 11 with 13 rebounds, and Jordan Adams scored eight with eight assists.
Yet it was Jessica Duarte who scored 12 and Kiki Alofaituli, who scored six, that Kiernan credited with being the difference-makers.
"They gave us energy, they gave us rebounding, they gave us timely baskets," he said.
Brea was essentially a one-woman team in scoring, as Alexis Perry scored 22. Wallace added 12, including six in the last 4-1/2 minutes, but no one else scored more than six points.
Mater Dei outrebounded Brea, 44-26, and the 18 points off the bench was double what Brea got.
Some of the credit goes to Mater Dei's using a 1-3-1 zone defense for the first time this season, trying to force Brea to shoot from the perimeter and keep the Ladycat forwards — Justine Hartman, Jeanier Olukemi and Wallace — off the boards.
"We wanted to take away Hartman's good looks," Kiernan said of the Brea star, who played on a bum knee that she tweaked in the semifinal and scored only six points. "Rebounding was the key to this game."
Now comes the drive for the next game between the rivals.