CHANDLER, Ariz. —
Yes, national No. 1 Bishop O'Dowd of Oakland, Calif. and No. 4 St. Mary's of Phoenix will be playing at Hamilton High tomorrow on the final day of the Nike TOC — but they'll be playing for third place.
Back-to-back upsets in the semifinals will pit No. 5 Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.)
against No. 9 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
in the title game, and those two teams now have a leg up on the national title.
The stories of the two games couldn't be more different, however, as Riverdale Baptist took advantage of a depleted Bishop O'Dowd team — senior point guard Ariell Bostick and two reserves left Phoenix Friday to attend a dance in Oakland that happens Saturday night — while Mater Dei and St. Mary's went toe-to-toe in the best TOC game since Maya Moore and Tina Charles battled it out in a classic 2006 overtime game between Collins Hill of Georgia and Christ the King of New York.
Mater Dei returned no starters from last year, and has a sophomore point guard running a team focused on the Samuelson sisters, who transferred from Edison of Huntington Beach this fall. The Monarchs were expected to be good this year, but not at the level of the national championship teams of 2009 and 2010. And St. Mary's, with six core players back from its unbeaten national championship team of 2011, was playing in front of a loud home crowd.
It was a little surprising, then, when the Monarchs jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead, thanks to senior
"Karlie was due to get hot," said coach Kevin Kiernan after the game.
But the entire Mater Dei team turned the heat to full boil and stunned St. Mary's by jumping out to a 40-23 lead with 2:31 left in the first half.
It had been a long time since the Knights had faced that kind of adversity, but they proved deserving of their national ranking by battling back to tie the game at 44 exactly eight minutes later. But Samuelson answered with a basket and, though the game got tight, Mater Dei never trailed again.
In fact, it looked as if the Monarchs were going to pull away as they built a 55-47 lead, but after a backcourt violation, Samuelson slammed the ball down in frustration — not at the call, but at the turn of events — and was called for a technical foul. That turned a four-point lead into a one-point lead with 1:40 left, but Chantel Osahor
, who played a marvelous game and finished with 14 points, missed a close shot and the Knights were forced to foul.Peyton Langston
calmly made both free throws to extend the lead to 57-54, and tough Mater Dei defense denied St. Mary's even a look at a three-pointer the rest of the way.
"My wife is an assistant at Cal State Northridge and they beat UCLA last night," said Kiernan. "I could not go home without this win."
Of course, he has another tough one Saturday against Riverdale Baptist, which not only had no Bostick to deal with, but Alexandra Kalmbach, who started at guard for Bishop O'Dowd, was injured with 6:09 left in the first quarter and did not return.
To their credit, the Dragons never gave up and tied the very athletic Crusaders after one quarter. But after Chania Ray
buried a deep three, and got fouled in the process, Riverdale Baptist took over. The lead stretched to 13 late in the second quarter, and even though O'Dowd clawed back to make it a two-point game with 3:32 left, with Oderah Chidom out of the game with five fouls, the Dragons simply didn't have enough gas in the tank to stay with the deep and very talented Crusaders.
"We knew about it all along," said Bishop O'Dowd coach Malik McCord about the trio's absence Friday.
But it had to be a disappointment for the Dragons to lose at less than full strength.