ANAHEIM, Calif. – Etiwanda head coach Dave Kleckner takes pride in the fact that in his 17 years on the Eagles bench and 21 years overall his teams haven’t played a single possession of zone defense.
With 27.1 seconds left and his team up by three points in the CIF Southern Section Division 1AA final, they sure weren’t about to start.
It only seemed right that a defensive stop was in between Etiwanda and a CIF championship. One stop actually turned into three but the Eagles stood strong defeating Mater Dei 54-51 to win the second CIF title in school history.
“That’s pretty fitting,” Kleckner said of needing to rely on his defense to secure the win. “When it came down the stretch to having to get those stops, we’re familiar with that. That’s not foreign territory for us at all.”
The Eagles handled the stage, the bright lights, and historical Mater Dei handily for just over three and a half quarters. The Eagles led by as many at 17 points in the second half and entered the fourth quarter with a 13-point lead.
But there was one late surge from the Monarchs in the form of a 13-2 late fourth quarter run.
Elijah Brown knocked down a three pointer with 58.3 seconds left to cut the lead to 54-49.
The Eagles then turned the ball over when Sheldon Blackwell, unable to run the baseline, traveled while trying to inbound the ball.
Brown came back with a tough leaner to get the Monarchs within three points, 54-51. On the ensuing possession, Etiwanda guard Jordan McLaughlin drove to the basket but was called for a charge with 27.1 seconds left.
Brown came back with a three point try but missed.
Stop No. 1. McLaughlin was tied up after grabbing the rebound and the possession arrow belonged to Mater Dei with 16.5 seconds left.
The Monarchs went back to Brown, who came up unsuccessful on a contested layup. With no other choice he picked up his fifth personal foul and had to leave the game with 8.6 seconds left. Brown exited with a game high 21 points.
Stop No. 2. Etiwanda could have put the game away at the free throw line but came up empty on two attempts.
Stanley Johnson corralled the rebound and dribbled it up the floor for Mater Dei. His three point attempt was unsuccessful at time expired.
Stop No. 3. Until the 2:12 mark of the fourth quarter, Etiwanda had a stranglehold on the game. Of course, it started with their defense. They held Mater Dei to just nine points in the first and third quarters and 32 percent shooting for the game.
The shooting of the Eagles, however, came as a surprise. They were hot in the first half connecting on all six of their three point attempts to take a 29-21 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“We played with confidence,” Kleckner said. “We came out, we shot the ball well. A lot of teams don’t think we shoot the ball real well but I think we proved some people wrong tonight.”
Said Etiwanda forward Kenny Barnes, who finished with a team high 16 points: “We knew coming into the game that they had to adjust to us. We knew if we played our roles and did what we was supposed to do on defense (we’d be OK) and that’s what got us here.”
Etiwanda didn’t do themselves any favors by losing to Rancho Cucamonga during the last week of the regular season. Kleckner questioned the team’s character following that loss and they had a meeting knowing things needed to change if they were going to accomplish their goal of winning a CIF championship.
The loss to Rancho Cucamonga, in all likelihood dropped them from a No. 3 seed to a No. 6 seed, placing them in the much tougher bottom half of the bracket.
“We were just saying (in the meeting) if we don’t lose, we got to go through everyone anyway to win a CIF championship,” McLaughlin, who finished with 14 points and six assists recounted.
They avenged four straight postseason losses to Long Beach Poly in the semifinals and on Saturday they avenged losses in the 1997 and 2010 CIF finals to Mater Dei.