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March 7, 2010

No. 5 Mater Dei survives in section final

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Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, No. 5 in the latest RivalsHigh boys basketball rankings, won a section championship Saturday night for the 20th time in 28 years under Gary McKnight.

But don't be confused: There was nothing routine about this game.

The 68-65 victory over Etiwanda actually represents a breakthrough as it's the first victory in this game in four years - something especially sweet for the team's lone senior, Gary Franklin, who had come up short in 2007-09.

"It was just a hump we needed to get over," Franklin told OCvarsity.com, the Web site for The Orange County Register. "Coach and I have been through this for a while."

Just how long coach McKnight will continue to go through this remains to be seen.

In its report on the game, OCVarsity noted some health issues for McKnight, especially in regard to blood-sugar levels, and wondered how much longer he would remain in the job. McKnight wondered, too.

"I don't know how much longer I can do this," he told the paper.

Some wondered if Mater Dei didn't get a little extra help, too, with a non-call on the game's final play.

After Mater Dei took a three-point lead from two free throws by David Brown with five seconds remaining, Etiwanda raced the ball up the court.

Evan Jenkins went up for a potential game-tying 3-pointer against heavy defense from Mater Dei's Keala King and Eli Stalzer.

There was contact with the ball - it never reached the rim - but possibly also with the body. There just wasn't a call.

Etiwanda coach Dave Kleckner didn't blame the non-call for the defeat when asked by OCVarsity.

"It looked like he (Stalzer) got ball, hand and wrist all in one," Kleckner said. "But that's not what lost us this game. There were things we could have done throughout the game to win it."

The back-and-forth game was a struggle for Mater Dei throughout, nothing like its signature 82-76 win over No. 19 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman on Feb. 6.

Mater Dei led after the first quarter (14-10); Etiawanda led at half (31-39); Mater Dei led after three (53-51).

UCLA commit Tyler Lamb had a game-high 22 for Mater Dei; Franklin had 21 (including six 3-pointers); King had nine points and 12 rebounds.

Byron Wesley led Etiwanda with 18 points.

Both Mater Dei (29-1) and Etiwanda (23-9) advance to the Southern California Regionals.

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