Coach David Benezra said earlier this week that his Santa Monica Crossroads High School basketball team would pull away from Whittier Christian in the final quarter of Saturday's Southern Section 1-A boys' championship game.
Guard Chris Brown made sure that Benezra's prediction came true.
Brown scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth period as the Roadrunners defeated the Heralds in the final for the second consecutive season, 58-48, at the Sports Arena.
Crossroads, which made a record-tying sixth straight appearance in a Southern Section final, led by only two points after three periods, 35-33. That's when Brown took over. The 6-foot senior was 5 for 5 from the floor and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line in the final quarter, during which he single-handedly outscored the Heralds, who managed only 15 points.
The Roadrunners, who have won four Southern Section titles, finished 23-5. Whittier Christian, which had not lost since its season opener with Lynwood, finished 26-2.
"We knew it would be close, but we knew that gradually we would pull away from them," said Benezra, in his first year at Crossroads. "We aimed to beat them in the long haul because of our conditioning. Our conditioning was a key to the game."
Another was the disappointing performance of Whittier Christian forward Erik Martin. Martin came into the game averaging 21 points, and in Tuesday's semifinal victory over Chadwick the 6-5 junior had 28. But against Crossroads, Martin was 3 for 15 from the floor and 5 for 11 from the free-throw line and finished with only 11 points.
Martin wasn't the only Herald player to struggle. Senior forward Mike Goodcase, who was averaging 15 points, was 5 for 15 from the floor and scored only 10.
"That's what cost us the game," said Bill Cuccia, Whittier Christian coach. "We needed 20 points from both of them. When they shoot like that, we just can't win."
Chris Syke's layup after a steal and length-of-the-court drive early in the second period gave Whittier Christian its biggest lead, 19-13. But Keith Thompson came off the bench to score six quick points and help Crossroads to a 23-22 lead at the half.
Matt Bailey made a pair of free throws with six seconds left in the third quarter to give Crossroads the lead for good at 35-33.