Brian Williams, St. Monica High School center, lay face down at midcourt on the Sports Arena floor, his 6-foot 10-inch body seemingly stretching from here to the University of Maryland, which he will attend next season.
Williams had just missed a free throw with five seconds remaining that would have tied Mater Dei, and perhaps sent the 5-A division semifinal game into overtime. Instead, it was the end for Williams and his teammates.
Like so many teams in the past six years, St. Monica came close. Oh, so close. But instead, Mater Dei will advance to championship game for an unprecedented fifth consecutive season after a 48-47 victory over the Mariners Wednesday night in front of 5,352 fans.
The Monarchs (27-1) survived a late surge led by Mariner guard Jason Matthews to move into the title game at 8:45 on Saturday against Long Beach Millikan. Millikan advanced with a 67-57 victory over Lakewood in the second game.
Mater Dei appeared to have the game clinched with 5:46 remaining after junior forward Kevin Rembert completed a three-point play for a 42-33 lead. But that's when Matthews went to work.
The 6-3 senior made five straight jump shots in the final quarter, including three down the stretch, to help cut the Monarchs' lead to one point.
St. Monica took a 45-44 lead with 1:28 remaining on Matthews' 16-foot shot, but the Monarchs quickly regained the lead, 46-45, on a short jumper by Rembert.
Then the game got a little wild. Williams missed an eight-foot base line shot with 50 seconds remaining and LeRon Ellis, Mater Dei center, rebounded. Monarch guard Chris Patton was fouled by Matthews with only 26 seconds remaining and calmly made two free throws for a 48-45 lead.
During the next 20 seconds, the teams fought, dove and crashed for the ball near midcourt and somehow it rolled to Williams near the basket. He picked it up, made a bank shot and was fouled by Mater Dei's Erik Quigley with five seconds remaining.
"The ball looked like a hot potato out there," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said. "I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but every time I looked up at the clock another five seconds were gone.
"Then the ball rolls to Williams, he looks at it as if to say, 'Look what I found,' and scores. Tonight scared me."
McKnight called a timeout to give Williams some time to think about the ensuing free throw. It was Williams' only free throw of the game. Monarch guard John Boyle got the rebound and Mater Dei ran out the clock.
It seemed only fitting afterward that Ellis was the first player to console Williams as he lay on the floor. The heralded matchup between the two prep centers was some show.
Williams blocked Ellis' first shot, but the Mater Dei senior finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Ellis took control in the third quarter, scoring on two dunks as Mater Dei opened a 31-21 lead.
Williams had 10 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks but shot only five times in the second half with Ellis hounding his every move. Matthews led all scorers with 25 points.
"I tried to concentrate more on my defense tonight," said Ellis, who will attend the University of Kentucky. "It blew my mind when he (Williams) blocked my first shot, so I went to the jump hook."
Patton, who emerged as the game hero with his two clutch free throws, said he tried to concentrate on his shots with the game on line and had a feeling that Williams was going to miss his free throw.
"I've never been in a situation like that before with the game on the line," he said. "I tried not to think about it too much. Personally, I thought he (Williams) was going to miss and when we got the rebound all we had to do was run out the clock."
Patton has been on the varsity since he was a freshman, but this is his first season as a starter. He finished with 10 points and did a good job handling St. Monica's press.
"In the end, it came down to a four-year senior putting down the one-and-one," McKnight said. "I thought LeRon took control in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter.
"I'm happy for the kids because I feel this is more of a team than any of the past teams I've had at Mater Dei."
Losing Coach Leo Klemm declined to comment on the Ellis-Williams matchup, saying: "I'm not interested in matchups; I'm interested on how the team plays and who wins the game.
"I felt we were going to win. If we played them again, I think we would win."
Instead, St. Monica was left to wonder what might have been, finishing the season 20-7.