June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: St. John Bosco avenges losses to Mater Dei and earns trip to CIF state final

Mater Dei’s Brandon Benjamin drives on the baseline as Elzie Harrington of St. John Bosco defends. (Photos courtesy Mark Bausman, For OC Sports Zone).

For the St. John Bosco boys basketball team, the third time was indeed a charm.

Elzie Harrington scored a game-high 24 points and Brandon McCoy Jr. and Jack Turner each added 14 points each as the Braves held on and defeated Mater Dei in overtime 71-68 in the CIF Division I So Cal Regional final Tuesday night before a standing room only crowd at St. John Bosco.

The Braves (27-7) had lost both Trinity League games this season to the Monarchs, but rebounded to win the third game.

St. John Bosco advances to the state final and will face San Ramon Valley Friday at 8 p.m. at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

To see the slide show, click on the first photo:

“This was one heck of a high school basketball game,” said Braves Coach Matt Dunn. “People don’t realize how hard it is to get ready to play after you’ve lost in the CIF Open Division (Bosco lost its last game to Harvard Westlake 10 days ago in the CIF Open Division). I loved our effort and we played really good defense.”

With 17.1 seconds left in regulation, Harrington’s basket tied the game at 60-60. Mater Dei fired up two shots from in close in the final seconds but both were off the mark and the game went to overtime.

Both teams led in the extra period. However, after missing eight free throws in regulation, McCoy made four of six free throws in OT. With 1:12 remaining, he sank two free throws and gave the Braves a 71-68 lead. Mater Dei got off a few shots in the final seconds, but McCoy pulled down the rebound and ran out the clock to seal the win for St. John Bosco.

“Big time players, make big time plays,” said McCoy, following the game. “I know I missed a lot of free throws and I’m going to have to work on that, but we came together down the stretch.”

Harrington made two huge baskets in the final minutes of regulation and in overtime he converted three crucial free throws.

“We’re a tough team and we had motivation coming into the game tonight, because they beat us twice this season,” said Harrington. “We’ve been working all season for this moment.”

Top-seeded St. John Bosco made 12 3-pointers in the game, including four by Harrington, two by Turner, two by Max Ellis and two by Chris Komin (10 points), who nailed a clutch three in OT.

“It’s so exciting to be going to the state championship game,” said Turner.

No. 3-seeded Mater Dei (29-6) got strong games from Scotty Belnap (17 points) and Brady Karich (16 points).

“It was a fast paced game until we got to the fourth quarter and overtime and then it seemed like they were calling fouls on every play,” said Karich, who drilled four 3’s. “It’s tough when you get two of your starters knocked out of the game on fouls. But we still had guys step up, Joe Keegan hit a big 3-pointer and he played outstanding defense.”

Starting Mater Dei forward Blake Davidson fouled out early in the fourth quarter and teammate Owen Verna fouled out with 5:05 to play. Their departures hurt the Monarchs down the stretch.

“I suppose we need to keep our hands to ourselves better, but in a game like that it seems like there were too many calls.” said Davidson.

Mater Dei made eight 3-pointers and led 19-14 after the first quarter and built a 31-23 lead following Belnap’s basket with 2:12 left in the half.

However, Turner stole the ball at midcourt and drove in for a bucket to cut the lead to 31-30 with 37 seconds left in the half. Brandon Benjamin added a basket and gave the Monarchs a 33-30 lead at halftime. Benjamin finished with 13 points and Luke Barnett added 10 points.

The lead see-sawed in the third quarter. McCoy’s 3-pointer with one second remaining in the quarter gave the Braves a 50-47 edge at the end of three periods. Again, in the fourth quarter, the lead changed hands several times before regulation ended in a 60-60 tie, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.

“Brandon (McCoy) is the toughest kid I’ve ever coached,” said Dunn. “He made the big free throws when he had to.”

Mater Dei was attempting to win its 17th So Cal Regionals title and advance to the finals in pursuit of its 13th state championship. Mater Dei holds state records in both the regional and state championships. St. John Bosco advances to the state finals for the first time since 2014 when it won the State Division II title. In 2021, the Braves qualified for the state finals but the game was postponed due to the pandemic.

Mater Dei was again without the services of its best player Brandon Martinsen, who suffered a broken tibia in the Monarchs second to last regular season game, against St. John Bosco and missed post-season play.

Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight politely declined to comment with reporters after the game as he was walking off the court.

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone