Mater Dei withstands LB Poly rally

ONTARIO --Mater Dei withstood an emotional charge by Long Beach Poly in the second half and won the right to defend it two consecutive state titles.

The Monarchs, the top-seeded team in the Southern California Regional Championships, scored a 54-43 victory over third-seeded Poly on Saturday in the Division I finals at Citizens Bank Arena.

Mater Dei was paced by Nirra Fields, who scored 20 points, and Alexas Williamson, who scored 14.

The game pitted Mater Dei (32-3), the No. 1 ranked team in the state, against Poly (31-4), ranked No. 3. They are ranked 1-2 in the state in Division I, essentially playing a de facto state championship.

The Monarchs will play in Sacramento next Saturday, 6 p.m., against the North champion, Berkeley, a 56-38 winner over Sacramento Kennedy. Berkeley is ranked fourth in the state in the division.

"It means a lot," Kevin Kiernan, Mater Dei's coach, said of the opportunity to win three in a row. "We're trying to build something here, obviously. ... That's why we work so hard."

Williamson proved especially important in the third quarter, when Poly had to make its push. The Jackrabbits, trailing 27-18, opened the third with Destiny King's rebound, but Williamson answered with back-to-back 3-pointers, and then Andee Velasco added another three for a 36-18 lead.

"Stat-wise they were 1-for-9 at the half, so you say 'Look, they're not hitting the outside shots, so let's force them to do that' ..." Poly coach Carl Buggs said. "Pick your poison. She hit those first two threes and the first three minutes of the third quarter is huge. If she misses those, it could be a different ball game, but she made them."

Yet Poly closed to within 48-43 with 1:16 left in the contest on King's 3-pointer, but she fouled out with a minute left and Mater Dei made 6-of-8 free throws the rest of the way.

Mater Dei held a 37-24 edge in rebounding, led by Jordan Adams' seven; she also had five points and three assists.

Even though Fields scored 12 in the first half and Mater Dei built a 27-18 lead-- the Monarchs scored the last four points of the half -- the third quarter crucial. Both teams often put games away in the third, but it was imperative that Poly make its move, and the Jackrabbits scored right away as King -- playing with three personal fouls -- opened with a a putback.

But then Williams and Velasco provided their long-distance magic for a 33-20 lead.

A scary moment took place with 3:56 let in the third quarter and Mater Dei holding a 36-24 lead. Keyla Morgan fell to the floor after contact with a Mater Dei player and went down face first. She remained on the floor, then started convulsing in her legs. She was taken away on a gurney to an on-site medical facility, and it was reported that she was alert and OK.

After the injury, Poly went on a 9-4 run, but still trailed by nine points, 42-33, going into the fourth when Williamson closed with an 18-footer.

"That one shot she made where she just kind of flipped it up because she thought the shot clock was going off was huge because we were struggling,"Kiernan aid of the basket. "We kind of stopped playing there for a little bit when Poly's kid went down, everyone kind of froze."

Poly was led by Olivia Montgomery, who came off the bench and scored 12. The Mater Dei defense limited Poly's five starters to 27 points. King had seven points, and Arica Carter, Breeyon Alexander and Morgan had six.

Buggs said he was most proud of the way his team responded to the Morgan incident.

"She's one of our family ... so it's hard," Buggs said. "I'm most proud of the way we fought back after she went down and nobody gave up. Tears in everybody's eyes."