"Playing in the same building where his father coached Lakewood High to a CIF title 20 years ago, King head coach Tim Sweeney Jr. watched his fledgling program take the game right to one of the most storied programs in California history. The Wolves harassed Mater Dei into 34 percent shooting from the field and stole the ball from the young Monarchs 11 times. Mater Dei committed a total of 21 turnovers in the face of relentless pressure.
""Defense wins championships and defense is what gave us the win tonight," Sweeney said. "We were getting them into a lot of foul trouble with our speed. They could never get an inside game going tonight. And there was always a guy with a hand in their face."
""They did a very good job of exposing a lot of our weaknesses," agreed Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, whose team had entered contest winners of 22 in a row, including a dominating win early in February over then national No. 1 Oak Hill Academy. "We had some unforced turnovers. That killed us. We didn't do a good job protecting the ball."
"The Monarchs also didn't do a good job of playing with a sense of urgency. Even in the first half, while Mike and D.J. Strawberry were helping Mater Dei to a seven-point lead midway through the second quarter, this didn't look like a Monarch squad committed to rolling over its opponent, because the lead was forged mostly on account of poor shooting on King's part.
""In the first half, we were getting a lot of good shots, but they weren't dropping," Sweeney explained. "I told them at the half to reverse the ball. And then Marvin [Lea] really began to do his work in the fourth quarter."
"Lea, known to family and friends as "Sweet Pea," scored 23 of his game-high 28 points after the break and single handedly took the game over on both ends of the floor. He found the basket on the break, from the corner, on stick backs and at the free throw line. The 6-foor-3 senior even had time to exact a little revenge.
"Ahead 57-54 with less than three minutes remaining and Mater Dei sniffing a comeback, Wesley Washington stole the ball from Lea and fed Mike Strawberry, but the senior could not convert the lay-in. Less than 30 seconds later, after two Lea free throws had extended the Wolves lead to five, Sweet Pea sealed the win by stealing the ball from Washington and going all the way for a two-handed, "headed to Sacramento" stuff.
""I knew at that point that we had the game in control," Lea said. "I couldn't pout about the steal and I knew if I played hard the ball would fall in my lap."
"Leon Rosborough and Garret Hilt helped the King cause, scoring 13 and 11 points, respectively.
"The Wolves (30-4) will play for the state title Saturday night in Sacramento against St. Francis of Mountain View.
"Senior Mike Strawberry, who won four CIF-Southern Section titles and two state titles while playing for Coach McKnight, paced the Monarchs (29-5) with 18 points. Washington had 13 points. Heralded junior Harrison Schaen, strapped with foul trouble, only played 14 minutes, but managed five points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
"D.J. Strawberry, one of seven key players returning for Mater Dei next season, said that the team will not forget the loss any time soon.
"Next year, I think we'll know the feeling of losing this year," he explained. "We'll have the hunger. We expect to be here next year and we expect to win it."