Wednesday night's CIF Southern Section 5-A basketball semifinal between Edison and Serra high schools was one of those games the Chargers had every chance to win and the Cavaliers, it seemed, did everything they could to lose.
Yet, Serra still came out victorious, defeating Edison, 61-57, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena to earn its first trip to a Southern Section title game in the school's 36 years. The Cavaliers will meet Mater Dei Saturday night for the 5-A championship.
How did the Cavaliers do it? Let's just say, it figured.
Serra reserve Deon Figures, called up from the junior varsity team for the playoffs, made the first free throw of a one-and-one situation with six seconds remaining to give the Cavaliers a 60-57 lead. It was his only point of the game.
Terry Newman then rebounded Figures' second shot, was fouled, and made a free throw with four seconds left to account for the final margin.
Keith Malone, a 6-foot 4-inch senior forward, led the Cavaliers (23-4) with 28 points and 15 rebounds and made 8 of 8 free throws. Sophomore forward James Moses added 19 points and made 7 of 11 free throws.
The Chargers (17-10) have their own poor free-throw shooting to blame for the loss. Edison made just 4 of 10 foul shots in the fourth period and 7 of 15 in the game. Chris Cole, who scored 15 points, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 17 seconds remaining and the Chargers trailing, 59-57.
Edison's Mike Henderson then stole the ball with 13 seconds left, drove toward the key and had his shot blocked by Newman. Serra recovered the ball and passed to Figures, who was fouled and eventually won the game for the Cavaliers.
"I knew he was nervous and I told him he was a going to make his free throws," said George McDaniel, Serra coach.
While he was at it, McDaniel should have told the Cavaliers not to take bad shots or force bad passes or commit costly turnovers with a nine-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers could have used a few words then.
Edison held a 29-27 lead on the strength of forward Rich Smith's 16 first-half points (he finished with 19), but Serra intensified its full-court press, forcing four straight Edison turnovers midway through the third period. Edison finished with 19 turnovers.
The Cavaliers reeled off 12 straight points, including six by Malone and four by Moses, to go from a 35-31 deficit to a 43-35 lead with 4:09 left in the third. Minutes later, Serra scored five straight to take a 48-37 lead and apparent control of the game.
Then, the Cavaliers got sloppy. Brian Tate missed an off-balance shot and Smith hit a jumper for the Chargers. Darvin Jackson committed an offensive foul and Cole made a free throw. Jackson's alley-oop pass attempt to Moses went off the forward's hands and out of bounds, and Cole capitalized with a jump shot.
That made it 55-53, Serra, with 3:41 to play. Derrick Gouthier's two free throws with 2:23 left gave the Cavaliers a four-point lead, which they maintained until the 1:13 mark. Gouthier was then called for a two-shot foul for throwing an elbow at Charger guard Dave Margulies while Serra had the ball.
But Margulies missed both foul shots. The Cavaliers, however, couldn't put the Chargers away. Cole's bank shot made it 59-57 and Edison fouled Figures with 29 seconds left.