Mater Dei rallies past Loyola in CIF-SS semis

Mater Dei came back from a 10-point third quarter deficit to beat Loyola, 61-58, in Tuesday’s CIF-SS semifinal match up.

This rich history between Loyola and Mater Dei came shining through Tuesday night as they fought for a spot in the finals. Skilled ball handling, clutch shots and some of the largest and most talented young men in sport defined the evening.

It was just good basketball.

In the first half, the Cubs and Monarchs stayed neck and neck. After one quarter they were tied at 17, with Mater Dei leading by four at one point. Mater Dei shot 44.8 percent from the floor and hit 2 of 5 three pointers. Loyola was only shooting 36.4 percent, with their own pair of three-point shots and went into the half trailing 30-28.

But the Cubs stayed one step ahead of the Monarchs in the third quarter ending it 48-46. They went up by as much as 10, shooting 47.7 percent from the floor and going 5-of-10 from beyond the arc.

“They got that 10-point lead, but they fought back and I’m really proud of the guys. You know I’m really proud of the guys. It’s been a long year and a late game tonight. I think they were tired. I really do,” said Mater Dei head coach Gary McKnight, the winningest head coach in California basketball history.

The Cubs continued to edge out the Monarchs well into the fourth quarter. But with 5:31 left in the game Stanley Johnson hit a perfect three to give Mater Dei a 53-52 lead. Less than a minute later, at 4:16, it was Jordan Strawberry’s turn to help the Monarchs. His alley-oop, complete with dramatic fall, made it 55-52, putting the Cubs down three.

Loyola’s Parker Jackson-Cartwright sank a three to cut the deficit to 59-58 with 28 seconds left to keep the Cubs in the game.

“That’s something he does all the time, so I tried to overlook it,” said Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson, who had 16 points and 8 rebounds Tuesday night.

Instead of panicking, the Monarchs played through the crisis. After a timeout and a brief scuffle, Xavier Johnson hit both his free throws to put the Monarchs up 61-58. Johnson finished with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds.

The Monarchy reigns for at least one more year.

Mater Dei will be vying for the program’s 22nd CIF championship on Saturday vs. Long Beach Poly in what is sure to be an extremely physical, exciting matchup.