When the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation face off in a CIF championship game, it is a guarantee the hype for that game will be off the charts. What is not guaranteed though is the game living up to its hype, however the game between the No. 1 Mater Dei Monarchs and the No. 2 Chaminade Eagles was everything it was hoped to be.
Mater Dei and Chaminade have played once before this season, where Chaminade handed Mater Dei its only loss so far. Leonna Odom, a former Mater Dei player, made a game winning layup for the Eagles.
Early in the rematch, Coach Kelli Dimuro’s Eagles struggled to create any offense, and unfortunately, no matter how good of a defense 6-0 Valerie Higgins and 6-1 Leonna Odom can create, there is just no stopping top-rated recruit Katie Lou Samuelson. The 6-3 UConn commit drained from all over the place in the beginning, scoring 20 of her 33 points in the first half.
Mater Dei’s lead was commanding early on. They lead by as much as 17 about midway through the second quarter, but the Eagles never gave in. It was clear to everyone in the arena that if the talented trio of Higgins, Odom, and point guard Paige Fescke started to make their shots, that Mater Dei lead could vanish quickly.
At halftime, the Monarchs led, 37-25.
As the third quarter began, the Eagles offense picked up, but so did Mater Dei’s. The second half no longer looked like the one-sided dominance displayed in the first, but like what this game should be: two national powerhouses battling it out.
No matter what Chaminade pulled off on the offensive end, Mater Dei would match it. At one point Fescke lead the Eagles to within seven, but Samuelson scored on two straight possessions to get it right back to 11. It wasn’t until a couple of minutes left when Chaminade finally made it close with the Monarchs.
Fescke had been the star for the Eagles all night, but it was in the closing minutes where she took off. It seemed on every possession down the stretch, Fescke was either hitting the bucket or setting up Higgins or Odom for the score.
With the Eagles down by three, Fescke nailed a corner three to tie it up. The next possession, Mater Dei hit one of two free throws to get a 63-62 lead with just over 20 seconds left in the game.
Coach DiMuro called a timeout, and prepared the Eagles for their make or break possession of this championship game.
There was not a soul in the gym who did not know that the final shot of the game would be taken by Fescke. The point guard got the ball and sent it to Odom in the corner, Odom gave it to Issy Newman on the wing, and Newman got it to Fescke whose three pointer rimmed out, right into the hands of Chaminade forward Melissa Wright, who kicked it out to Newman. Newman, who had not scored since the first quarter, knocked down a baseline jumper to give the Eagles a 64-63 lead with 3.8 seconds left.
Mater Dei got the ball to Samuelson for the last shot, however the three Eagle defenders swarming her were too much as she was barely even able to get off a backcourt heave before the final buzzer sounded.
Coach DiMuro and Chaminade were CIF Open Division champions, giving the Chaminade Girls their third ring in three years, two being CIF rings and one being a state ring from last season. This was their first Open Division championship.
The Eagles and the Monarchs have a very good chance of meeting again in Open Division state playoffs, and expect another thrilling match.
Whatever happens in state playoffs for the Eagles, there is no doubt Coach DiMuro has created a dynasty with this basketball team.