Orange County and LA South: Mater Dei 57, Santa Monica 37

ANAHEIM -- Alexyz Vaioletama missed all of last season with a knee injury and didn't even play a lot in the fall. But when she stepped on the floor Tuesday, the Mater Dei forward used that knee to kick start the Monarchs to a 57-37 semifinal victory.

Vaioletama scored seven of her team's first 13 points as it built an 11-point lead, the kind of early margin that was too much for Santa Monica to overcome in the Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs.

She finished with 15 points, and combined with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' 20, the two 6-footers nearly outscored the Vikings by themselves.

It was a focused effort by Mater Dei, which won the State Division II title last season.

"Santa Monica had our attention," said Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan. "They beat Long Beach Poly at Long Beach Poly, and not many people do that. We were locked onto Santa Monica.

"We played really good defense, held them under 40. Any time you do that in an arena, you've got a chance to win."

Santa Monica (22-10) had beaten second-seeded Long Beach Poly, 57-56, in the quarterfinals, and Poly was the only team to beat Mater Dei (28-1) this season.

"Beating Poly is something that we'll remember forever," said Santa Monica coach Marty Verdugo. "It was such a high, beating Poly, it was a little tough to regroup.

"They've been here before, that was the difference. They got that big lead. In the first four minutes (of the fourth quarter) we couldn't close the gap."

Mater Dei led 40-30 going ito the fourth quarter, but the size and strength of the Monarchs was too much. That, and the defense. Mater Dei's defense almost always leads to offense. Lewis, who signed with Connecticut, finished off the performance with eight points in the final 3 minutes.

However, it was her five points, along with three by Viaoletama and a three-point basket by Kaija Powell, that turned away a Santa Monica rally when the game was still in doubt. After trailing 18-5 after one quarter, the Vikings had cut a 13-point deficit to five, 28-23, with 5 minutes 26 seconds left in the third quarter. Then Powell connected. Then Lewis and Viaoletama did their thing to bump the lead back to 10 going into the fourth quarter.

And then Mater Dei scored 13 of the next 17 points.

"It's tough to recover when you give up that much, and at the end we ran out of gas," Verdugo said.

Lewis, who had 11 rebounds, made three of Mater Dei's five three-point baskets. Santa Monica was 0 for 15 from beyond the arc.

Viaoletama finished with 15 points, 13 of which came in the first three quarters, and 12 rebounds.

"Alexyz Viaoletama has been playing a lot better," Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan said. "She missed all of last year. Missed the summer. Didn't play all fall. She's starting to really come on and play well."

The victory sends Mater Dei to the Southern Section 1AA finals against Brea Olinda in a game pitting the two top-ranked teams in the nation against each other. The game will be played at 8:45 p.m. at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena.

"It's good for Orange County, it's good for Southern California, it's good for the nation," Kiernan said. "They're No. 1, and they're a legit No. 1. Hopefully, we can give them a game."

Brea can count on it.