Cleveland High is like a small and feisty kid who can whip anyone but the big boy on the block.
Fairfax is big but it's an understatement to call the Lions boys. Cleveland battled furiously but futilely and fell to Fairfax, 86-58, its fourth loss to Fairfax this season coming Friday night in the City Section 4-A final at the Sports Arena.
It wasn't for lack of effort on Cleveland's part.
"We have no big names here," Cleveland Coach Bob Braswell said. "But we have a big heart. Sheer intensity and sheer heart got us to this championship game."
Cleveland's hard work resulted in 20 wins this season. But the Cavaliers never found a way to beat Fairfax.
"What Fairfax does is play up to the competition," Braswell said. "They consider us a good team, so they played well."
Cleveland (20-4) took its small, sharp ax to Fairfax and its three tall trees--Sean Higgins, Chris Mills and J.D. Green--but after hacking away for 32 minutes, the Cavaliers were no closer to a City title than when the game began.
Log another one: Fairfax is 25-0 and all four wins over Cleveland were by 14 or more points.
It didn't help that Cleveland played poorly. "This had to be our worst game of the season," Braswell said.
Cleveland shot only 38%. Adrian King scored 21 points but made only six of 16 shots. Michael Gray, who had led Cleveland in scoring each of the last seven games, was three for 12 and scored only six points.
Fairfax was Valley League champion, is ranked No. 1 in the State by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 2 in the nation by USA Today. Higgins (6-9), Mills (6-7) and Green (6-7) combined for 65 points and 41 rebounds. Each scored at least 20 points and had at least 11 rebounds.
"This is the most sound we've ever played on both ends of the court," Green said. "Defensively we played well, offensively we were outstanding."
Said Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani: "The City title was our first goal. We talked about the state championship and after we enjoy this for a few days, we'll get back to work. This club rises to the occasion. We sure stood tall tonight."
The tallest Cleveland player, Richard Branham, stands 6-4. The only solace for the Cavaliers is that four starters--Branham, forward Damon Charlot and guards Gray and Damon Greer are juniors.
"We'll be back and be as tough as ever," Braswell said. "I'm looking forward to next season."
Mills, the player of the tournament with 24 points and 11 rebounds, is the only junior among Fairfax's Triple Towers.
Cleveland's players bravely believed they could pull an upset, but reality kept creeping in. Fairfax is simply better.
Before the game, Braswell said, "There is no law saying they can't beat us four times."