In Wednesday night's Southern Section 5-A semifinal playoff game at the Sports Arena, Huntington Beach Edison High School played what its coach described as a "near-perfect" game.
It wasn't perfect enough, though.
Due largely to a 28-point performance by 6-4 senior forward Keith Malone, Gardena Serra hung on to defeat Edison, 61-57, to advance to the boys' 5-A final for the first time.
If Edison's effort was near-perfect, Serra's could best be described as just enough. The Cavaliers (23-4), who had problems early in the season but have come together to win 18 straight, played more like the 5-4 team they were at one point this season.
"We were lucky to win," Serra Coach George McDaniel admitted.
Save for a 25-point third quaRter, Serra struggled throughout the game. The big third quarter turned out to be the difference.
Throughout the first half, Edison had little trouble with the Cavaliers' press, taking a 29-27 lead by halftime. But Serra came out with a different press in the second half, which led to a 12-0 run that turned a 4-point deficit into a 43-35 lead.
Serra closed out the third quarter leading by nine points, then almost came apart in the final period. The Cavaliers made only one field goal in the quarter, but were saved by Edison's inability to capitalize and a key blocked shot with seconds remaining.
Clinging to a 59-57 lead with 16 seconds left, Serra had the ball stolen and Edison's Mike Henderson drove inside the key for a possible tying basket. But Serra center Terry Newman blocked the shot with 10 seconds left and the Cavaliers closed out the win with two free throws.
"That really hurt," Edison Coach Jon Borchert said of Newman's block. "I would like to think it was a foul, but the official said it was all ball."
Malone, the only player left from last season's team that lost in the semifinals to Mater Dei, played a key role in the first half, scoring 15 points to keep Serra close while forward James Moses was on the bench in foul trouble.
"Everything was perfect," Borchert said. "I was real pleased with our play."
Everything except the final score, that is.
Edison finished the season 17-10.