How's this for overcoming adversity? Woodbridge High rallied from a 13-point deficit in the first half, had its best player, Adam Keefe, ejected in the fourth quarter and then had to go into overtime before it won the Southern Section 2-A basketball championship.
The Warriors made eight consecutive free throws in the three-minute overtime period to gain a 68-60 victory Saturday afternoon over Banning in front of 6,854 in the Sports Arena.
The game, which lasted two hours, was marred by a bench-clearing fight with 4:37 left and Banning leading, 52-50. Richard Reyna, a Banning reserve, fouled Keefe low as Keefe attempted a dunk shot, and Keefe responded by chasing Reyna to midcourt.
Keefe shoved Reyna, who turned and surprised Keefe with a punch to the face as both benches emptied. Reyna and Keefe were ejected, along with an unidentified Banning assistant coach who punched Chris Deibert, a Warrior forward.
Keefe, who led all scorers with 32 points and had 15 rebounds, later defended his actions.
"I didn't see him coming, but the way he hit me, I knew he wasn't going for the ball," he said. "I can't sit there and take that.
"I never hit him. I'd probably do the same thing again. I don't think I did anything wrong."
It took nearly 10 minutes to restore order, and the breather was just what the tiring Woodbridge team needed against the quicker Broncos.
When play resumed, David Townsend, a Woodbridge guard, was substituted for Keefe at the free-throw line, and he made two shots. Then he made one of two free throws on Reyna's flagrant technical to give Woodbridge a 53-52 lead.
Dennis Gray, a Banning junior center, went to the line to shoot two free throws on Keefe's flagrant technical, but he missed both shots. It was little consolation for Coach Bill Shannon of Woodbridge.
"My best player is out of the game, and they lose their 11th man," Shannon said. "I wasn't happy, but you have to set an example for the kids. If I'm going to ask them to remain calm, I've got to remain calm."
The Warriors kept their cool, opening a 55-52 lead with 3:07 remaining after Deibert made two free throws. But Banning regained the lead, 56-55, after a free throw by forward Cameron Pierce with only a minute remaining.
That left Deibert to create the play of the game. He drove the lane with 44 seconds remaining and was fouled by Banning's David Efferson. As an afterthought, Deibert threw the ball from his hip into the basket.
The basket was good, Deibert made the subsequent free throw and Woodbridge had a 58-56 lead.
Banning (23-7) tied the score, 58-58, on Gray's jump shot with 34 seconds left, setting up overtime.
Woodbridge (25-5) opened a 60-58 lead on Townsend's 16-foot jump shot, and the Warriors maintained the lead throughout the extra period with some accurate free-throw shooting.
Forward Vince Bryan made four straight foul shots, and Townsend duplicated the sharpshooting. Banning went 0 for 4 at the line in overtime.
"The two guys we want to have at the line in the clutch situations are David Townsend and Vince Bryan," Shannon said. "I thought we kept our poise after the fight. We set a goal of getting here this season, and I think we had the right combination of experience and size."
Banning opened a 28-15 lead with 5:50 remaining in the second quarter as the Warriors got caught up in the Broncos' fast-breaking style of play.
But four of Banning's five starters had three personal fouls at halftime, and Stan Smith, the Bronco coach, was forced to go to his bench early and often.
"The early foul trouble was definitely against us," he said. "We got into foul trouble and started playing tentatively. I also thought my team was a little slower after the fight, and they looked a little fresher."
Townsend, an all-county linebacker for the Warriors' football team, said the fight helped motivate the team.
"The fight pumped us up," he said. "We channeled all our energy into playing and staying cool."
By staying cool, Woodbridge won its first Southern Section title in any sport in the school's seven-year history. Woodbridge opened in 1981 with a freshman and sophomore class and played its first varsity schedule the next year.
The Warriors advance to the Southern California Division II regionals beginning Wednesday.