The CIF-Southern Section basketball playoffs have produced their share of exciting games in the early rounds, with quarterfinal and semifinal action continuing this week.
For Catholic schools, among the most gratifying accomplishments is that of St. Pius-St. Matthias Academy in Downey, opened last fall as an expanded, reconfigured, coeducational entity. The Warriors won their first two Division 5A playoff games against Lone Pine (60-11) and Pilibos (41-20), and were scheduled to meet Pacifica Christian on Feb. 26 in the quarterfinals.
And then there is St. Monica Academy of Pasadena, bereft of even a gym, whose fledgling boys basketball team ended their season with loss to Desert Chapel Feb. 21 in round two of the Division 6 playoffs. But it was their victory in round one that defines their season.
The Crusaders, who won the International League title, reached the playoffs last season but were eliminated in the first round. This year, they squared off in round one against Liberty Christian — a team ranked just above St. Monica on MaxPrep’s California high school rankings. The game’s physical play reflected the even match-up.
St. Monica caught Liberty Christian off-guard early, and dominated the first quarter. But Liberty caught St. Monica sleeping in the early minutes of the second quarter, quickly tying the game up at 15.
The first half ended, though, with St. Monica shooting guard Gilbert Inman hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer to put the Crusaders in the lead. When game play resumed, both teams showed equal tenacity and resolve.
A physical third quarter ended with St. Monica barely ahead, 37-35. The Crusaders then stretched the lead in the fourth quarter, with small forward Marcus Cortez sinking a three-point shot, putting his team up 46-38.
Despite calling timeouts, Liberty could not stop St. Monica’s momentum, and the Pasadena school won their first playoff game in school history 55-47. Parents and friends rushed the floor to celebrate the victory when the buzzer went off.
St. Monica didn’t do as well against Desert Chapel High School of Palm Springs —ranked number two in the Southern Section — losing 89-30. “It was an emotional game,” said senior Thomas Boles.
Despite the loss, the players focused on the future of the young program. St. Monica’s Basil Inman said the younger players “came out strong this year,” adding that the team expects to improve.
St. Monica head coach Michael Muto attributed much of the team’s success to the senior class who led by example, on and off the court. Inman also attributed much of this season’s success to the seniors Thomas Boles, Sebastian Mireles, and his older brother, Gilbert, who helped set the tone.
The St. Monica girls team, meanwhile, was still alive in its Division 6 playoff drive, scheduled to play Glendale Adventist in the Feb. 26 quarterfinals. The 12th-seeded Crusaders defeated Cuyama Valley (45-26) and renaissance Academy (39-38) in their first two games.
Brian Jordi Thomas Knight contributed to this story.