East County Sports

Knights break through Mater Dei’s ceiling

Foothills' T.J. Leaf goes up with a shot Friday night at Mater Dei in the CIF State Regional Playoffs in Santa Ana. / photo OCVarsity.com

SoCal Regional CIF Playoffs


By James McHugh
© East County Sports.com

SANTA ANA (3-12-16) — The Foothills Christian Knights did something no other San Diego Section team has managed in history, defeated the perennial state powerhouse that is Mater Dei Catholic.


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Foothills Christian sophomore Jordan Starr (left) scrambles for a loose ball against Mater Dei on Friday night in Santa Ana. / OCVarsity.com photo

Friday night (Mar. 11) before a large contingent of Foothills’ fans who made as much of a home environment for their team as could be mustered in the Monarchs’ gym, senior T.J. LEAF completely shut down Oregon-bound M.J. Cage and Mater Dei on the inside. The rest of the Knights did just enough on the outside to knock off the No. 5 team in the state.


Leaf finished the night with 21 points and 16 rebounds while limiting Cage to just two points. Leaf rejected three of Cage’s shots on the night as well. It was another All-American night for the UCLA-bound senior to say the least.


The accomplishment goes well beyond the senior forward for the Knights however. Mater Dei lost for just the fourth time in their home gym, ever. The Monarchs simply do not lose on their home floor. Head coach Gary McKnight is a coaching legend in the California basketball sphere and nearly anyone who has ever played a game at Mater Dei refers to the home court advantage as eight on five ball year in and year out.


On Friday night, Foothills Christian once again got a taste of that reputation. Headed into the half the Knights carried a 10-point lead, then the whistles started to blow. LUIS SALGADO, rarely known for finding himself in foul trouble picked up his third, OMAJAE SMITH picked up his fourth and JORDAN VAN OMMERING picked up his third personal within minutes. It took the Monarchs all of 2:12 into the third quarter to erase the Knights lead and tie the game at 26.


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Foothills’ Omajae Smith (right) defends against a Mater Dei player on Friday night. / OCVarsity.com photo

“Our press has been working really well the last few games, but every time Mater Dei would inbound the ball, three full seconds would go before the shot clock would start,” commented assistant coach TROY LEAF after the victory. “It was obvious, we were looking for 10-second calls over and over again and you’d see the clock had run but the shot clock wasn’t moving.”


Despite the odd shot clock management the Knights never once relinquished their lead to Mater Dei. The Monarchs led 2-0 on a Spencer Freedman basket to start the game, but that was the last time the Monarchs would see a lead. Luis Salgado knocked down two, three pointers in the first quarter, Jordan Van Ommering landed another in the second. NIKKO PARANADA hit a three just before the half to expand the Foothills’ lead to 10-points.


Once again the Knights found a multitude of ways to win. The Knights showed what made this team the number one team in the county from start to finish this season. The same Knights that used just one, three point shot to obliterate Cathedral Catholic in the Open Division Championship last Saturday, knocked down five on Friday (Mar. 11).


“Our guys really rallied together tonight,” Troy Leaf said after the game. “Instead of shutting down when the calls started turning and all of a sudden we couldn’t get a call , they started to meet up in the huddles and band together, really keep each other grounded and keep focused.”


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The Knights’ T.J. Leaf wrestles for a loose ball Friday night against host Mater Dei Catholic in the CIF Regional Playoffs. / OCVarsity.com photo

Foothills Christian now gets a third crack at the Nation’s No. 1 team in Chino Hills. Next Tuesday 7:00pm at Colony High School the Knights and Huskies will go at it for a trip to the Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State where the Southern California finals will be played. The Knights lost by just two points the last time the teams met, and had a short jumper fall just short with seconds to play which could have sealed a win for Foothills. Chino Hills will enter the game 35-0 on the year having defeated many of the top teams in the nation.

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