He is the big brother, both spiritually and literally.
Seems like a tough position, the only senior in a historically dominant Santa Ana Mater Dei program to get consistent minutes. The task of taking on the burden of the top scorer while keeping a group of underclassmen in line. But since a Rocky Fall tournament at the Border League in Las Vegas, Zack Davidson of the Monarchs has taken on his role without complaint.
“With a bunch of freshmen and sophomores on my team who are pretty inexperienced,” Davidson said in October, “I have to show them what to do and what not to do.”
It’s that young core—six-foot-tall Brannon Martinsen, sniper Luke Barnett, Davidson’s younger brother, and sophomore Blake—that keeps 40-year-old head coach Gary McKnight on the sidelines of Mater Dei for another season. And he has been able to rely on Davidson as an on-field stabilizer, a steady post-presence who scored 23 points to lead Mater Dei to a 66-53 victory over Etiwanda and a Southern Section Division 1 championship at the Honda Center on Saturday.
Davidson worked from the high and low post in the first half as Mater Dei took a slight lead. A reliable hammer, he pounded away again and again in the second half, the centerpiece of the Monarchs’ skillful offense.
After just long swinging a layup in the third quarter, the 6-8 Montana commit galloped back down the field to snare a rebound at the other end, then raced back down the field to get a pass for an emphatic and-one to push the Monarchs’ lead to 11. It was a special blend of skill and heart, a four-year-old man who threw every drop of sweat into a performance his Monarchs needed.
“We knew he was going to be a tough player to defend,” said Etiwanda co-head coach Danny Ryan. “And we have a competition planned for it. But sometimes guys are just so good, so big, so strong.”
For three years now, Davidson has harbored the sting of a freshman loss to Chatsworth Sierra Canyon in an Open Division championship game. And even as he was inundated with photos after the final buzzer, presented with the championship plate, his teammates had to urge him to smile wider.
“When I was here on the bus – there was nothing to stop me from feeling that way again,” Davidson said after the game, reflecting on that freshman year loss. Because winning is cool. But nothing is worse than losing.”
For three-quarters of the way, as Mater Dei built up a lead, the massive Honda Center remained largely silent in a game that just felt a little dull. The Monarchs are essentially at their best when they’re a little dull, a well-oiled machine of shooting and boisterous playmaking, with Martinsen stretching to the brink of Mr. Fantastic style and Barnett cutting back door.
But with Mater Dei trying to hold on to a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, Etiwanda fans came alive after senior Curtis Williams drove, absorbing contact from Barnett and making a layup of one that took the Monarchs’ lead can reduce to seven. .
In addition to McKnight’s heart “beating,” he said, the umpires changed the decision. Attack. Whether right or wrong, it was such a vacuum of emotion, such a tide-changer, that longtime Etiwanda head coach David Kleckner was still barking at the referee as the seconds ticked on a Mater Dei victory.
“It was very humiliating,” said Etiwanda’s Jimmy Baker.
However, the Eagles had one last trump card up their sleeve, startling Mater Dei with a swarming full-court press late in the fourth quarter. But there was Davidson, again, who consistently made the correct reading, exhausting free throw after free throw – 11 of 13 on the line – to seal the victory.
“He actually calms everyone down when we’re all nervous in a game,” said Barnett.