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Vikings complete unlikely title defense in rubber match with Dons

Of the five defending section champions, none seemed less likely to repeat than La Jolla. Apparently someone forgot to tell the Vikings that, as they captured their second consecutive Division III championship with a 44-39 win over Cathedral Catholic Saturday afternoon at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

“We just shocked the summit,” said La Jolla guard Taylor Davis.

The tenth-seeded Vikings (17-13) entered the playoffs with a losing record and made it to the Division IV title game without playing a home playoff game. La Jolla was 9-13 in early February.

“We went through the fire together and we lost close game after close game,” said La Jolla coach Kamal Assaf. “We lost 11 out of 14 close games – three points or less or overtime.”

“It was so satisfying because of the adversity and the ups and downs,” Assaf said.

Assaf said the Vikings learned from those close losses. La Jolla has won eight of nine down the stretch.

“We were like the stonecutter that cuts the stone 100 times,” Assaf said, “and on the 101st time it splits.”

The Vikings used suffocating man-to-man defense to win the rubber match against Western League rival Cathedral Catholic (17-13). Both teams had trouble scoring, especially in the first half when they combined for only 34 points.

“We take pride in defense and that’s how we win games,” Davis said. “Our coach says we’re not the most athletic guys, we’re not the fastest or the strongest, but we’re the smartest and the toughest, so that’s what we have to rely on to win games.”

With the Vikings ahead five late in the third, Davis made a three-point play and hit a three-pointer on consecutive possessions to give his team a 34-25 lead headed into the fourth. Cathedral Catholic got as close as three late in the fourth quarter but La Jolla was able to hold on with four free throws from guard John Walsh in the final minute.

“Last year we knew we had a talented group and we knew we had a veteran group. It was a mature group. We were the frontrunner from day one and the Western League champs,” Assaf said. “This year we have very talented kids but we didn’t know if they would come together quickly enough to be competitive.”

“It’s a testament to their character, their toughness and their coachability.”

La Jolla center Tyler Heap scored a game-high 12 points to lead the Vikings. Guard Matthew Rosenburg led Cathedral Catholic with nine points.

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Four La Jolla defenders swarm Cathedral Catholic guard Andres Aldrete in the key

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