Support our high school sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber. Subscribe now
ORANGE — Mater Dei’s need for a dominating performance from Jenessa Cotton grew by the minute at Orange Lutheran on Tuesday night.
The host Lancers led by six points at halftime and responded to a surge by the Monarchs in the third quarter by taking a two-point lead into the fourth on a spectacular buzzer-beater by Shea Joko.
Mater Dei, ranked No. 1 in Orange County girls basketball, faced all that and more as it opened the Trinity League with standout guard Addison Deal on crutches and wearing a boot for her injured right ankle.
Cotton gave the Monarchs the lift they needed, delivering 32 points and 19 rebounds to rally the Monarchs to a 66-57 victory against No. 6 Orange Lutheran.
“She was very determined,” Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan said of the Duke-bound forward. “We need her to be fierce every day because every league game is going to be like this for us now. It’s just the way it is.”
“We have a very young bench. Addie is 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists a game. It’s a big hurt because she doesn’t just score.”
Cotton, the cousin of legendary Mater Dei boys basketball standout Schea Cotton, gave Mater Dei the lead for good at 53-52 early in the fourth on one of her soft-touch jumpers.
Sophomore Kaeli Wynn (13 points, eight rebounds) followed with a 3-pointer and the Monarchs (12-5, 1-0) created the breathing room that forced Orange Lutheran (10-6, 0-1) to foul in the final minute to stop the clock.
Cotton made 4 of 6 foul shots to help Mater Dei finish 8 for 10 in the fourth period.
“Losing was not an option for us,” said Cotton, who added three steals, two blocked shots and two assists. “It’s definitely a challenge (without Deal). She definitely put a lot of points on the board for us. It’s just up to other scorers — me, Kaeli (Wynn), Devyn (Kiernan) and Amaya (Williams) — to score the ball.”
“I knew they (Orange Lutheran) were undersized,” Cotton added. “I just had to defeat them in the post.”
Cotton’s best sequence came late in the third as she showcased her improved athleticism. The 6-foot-3 senior passed from the high post to Emily Shaw (10 points), who sank a 3-pointer from the corner for a 41-38 lead. Cotton then made a steal in the backcourt of the Monarchs’ press, pushed the fast break with her dribble and finished with a 3-point play off a layup.
Freshman Chasity Rice assisted a give-and-go play on the layup.
Orange Lutheran recovered later in the third. Senior Princess Cassell (23 points) sank a 3-pointer, Emalynn Vong (11 points) sank two free throws and Joko banked in a 3-poninter from the top of the arc to give the Lancers a 50-48 lead going to the fourth.
End of 3rd! pic.twitter.com/mymDko0LSD
— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) January 3, 2024
“I’m a little heartbroken right now but really happy with how our girls played,” Orange Lutheran coach Lindsay Charity said. “We didn’t back down. We weren’t afraid. We came out and we gave it the best we could.”
The Lancers scored the first five points of the opening quarter — all by Cassell — and led 34-28 at halftime on a late drive by Cassell.
Both teams finished with six 3-pointers an four points off the bench. Wynn tallied six assists.
The Monarchs dodged another injury as Devyn Kiernan left in the first period after a collision but returned.
Mater Dei plays host to JSerra in league Thursday while Orange Lutheran travels to Santa Margarita on Friday.