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Crusaders dodge another slow start

01/22/2014, 10:31pm PST
By Craig Malveaux

No. 2-ranked Mater Dei Catholic dominates Eastlake in second and third quarters.

Mater Dei Catholic senior Spencer Vering (10) grabs a rebound for the Crusaders, who won their ninth straight.

— With a penchant for sluggish starts, host Mater Dei Catholic fed its trend against Eastlake, managing two field goals in the first period Wednesday night.

Yet the No. 2-ranked Crusaders overcame their shooting slump and played stout defense to assume an 18-point lead after three quarters.

Clinging to the double-digit cushion, Mater Dei Catholic survived Eastlake’s fourth-quarter rally to outlast the Titans 51-44 in the Mesa League boys basketball opener.

Senior forward Robert Harris finished with a team-high 15 points for the Crusaders (16-2), who have won nine straight.

“We got sloppy and careless with the basketball and the fouls, which gave them an opportunity at the end,” said Crusaders coach Kenny Caesar. “But we held them off. I’m not happy, but we got the win.”

In the first quarter, Mater Dei Catholic was 2 of 13 shooting, managing five points on two layups and a free throw as Eastlake led 10-5 to close the period.

Then the Titans unraveled. And the Crusaders found their shooting touch.

No. 8 Eastlake (16-4) coughed up the ball 14 times, paving the way for a 19-0, second-period Crusaders run.

“We couldn’t get shots or get anything going because of the turnovers,” said Eastlake coach Alex Estrada.

At the 6:35 mark in the third, junior forward Justin Young ended Eastlake’s 11-minute, 25-second scoring drought on a putback to bring the score to 26-12. He finished with 14 points.

Eastlake sliced the lead to 46-41 with 53 seconds to play.

“Both teams entered the bonus,” Caesar said. “That’s when the game became a free throw contest.”

The Crusaders bricked 5 of 7 free throws down the stretch, but Eastlake offset the gaffes by missing four.

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