Reporting from Bakersfield —
There was no downplaying the historic moment that Gardena Serra achieved Saturday with its 63-59 overtime victory over Oakland Bishop O'Dowd in the state Division III boys' basketball championship game.
The Cavaliers became the first school in California to win football and basketball state titles in the same school year. Not Santa Ana Mater Dei, not Concord De La Salle, not Los Angeles Crenshaw — no athletic powerhouse, private or public, had done it until Saturday.
"This is very, very exciting," Coach Dwan Hurt said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. The kids deserve it."
It was only fitting that players took turns holding the state championship trophy because Serra (34-2) had 10 players score in a display of the athleticism and abundance of talent that has been accumulated on a single campus.
"Today was a real challenge because they have seven or eight real good players," Bishop O'Dowd Coach Doug Vierra said.
It was a tribute to Bishop O'Dowd (30-4) that the Cavaliers couldn't hold on to a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter. The Dragons made a frantic comeback, forcing three consecutive turnovers in the final two minutes to tie the score, 54-54, with 5.5 seconds left when Jordan Barton made a free throw.
But Barton's opportunity to put his team ahead with a second free throw vanished when the officials called a lane violation on Richard Longrus Jr.
"Oh, my gosh," Hurt said. "That was huge. I was thinking he was going to make that free throw and we had only 5.5 seconds to get the ball up."
Serra took control in overtime, opening a five-point lead, but Bishop O'Dowd rallied again, closing to 60-59. With 22.3 seconds left, Keith Shamburger missed two free throws, but Ronnie Stevens came up with the rebound on the second miss and scored for a 62-59 lead. Then Vaughn Autry clinched the win by making a free throw with eight seconds left.
"I prayed he made both free throws, but if he missed, I prayed [God] gave me the strength to get it," Stevens said.
Shamburger finished with 14 points and Steven Archibald had 12. Sophomore Brandon Ashley led Bishop O'Dowd with 17 points.
"Everybody is hurting and there aren't a whole lot of words that are going to heal it," Vierra said.
Hurt praised the Dragons, saying, "They were very well disciplined. It was a great game. They didn't give up. They kept coming. I think our bench was the difference. There's so much depth."
Four players — George Farmer, Bene Benwickere, Marqise Lee and Irving Lewis — played on the Cavaliers' 15-0 football team. Farmer made an important three-pointer in the fourth quarter, and he could win a third state title in track this spring.
"Ever since football season ended, our practices have been sometimes more competitive than games," Hurt said. "I just call out numbers and they come in and do it. It's like a wave."
Stevens said players were well aware of the historical importance of Saturday's game.
"It means everything," he said. "Words can't describe how great we feel making history."