Dozens of fans were left outside the sold-out Long Beach Poly High gym Tuesday night unable to get a ticket for a Southern Section Division 1AA semifinal playoff game. What they missed was a basketball classic.
Sophomore Delewis Johnson made two free throws with three seconds left in overtime to clinch Etiwanda's 59-55 victory over the Jackrabbits.
"It hit me when the buzzer sounded," Johnson said. "I started crying because it felt so great to win and finally beat Poly."
It was the unofficial public school championship game, matching two powers that have met for four consecutive years in the semifinals. Poly (27-3) had been a roadblock to the Eagles (26-2) the last two seasons, but Etiwanda Coach Dave Kleckner prepared his team to match the Jackrabbits' physicality on every possession.
"That's the most physical game we've played all year," Kleckner said. "We've been working since day one for this. Everything has been about being prepared to beat Poly or Mater Dei."
Etiwanda opened a 10-point lead in the third quarter, but Poly rallied behind Roschon Prince, who finished with 28 points. Regulation ended with both teams refusing to lose.
Sheldon Blackwell made a baseline jumper with 26 seconds left for a 51-48 Etiwanda lead. Prince tied the score with 19 seconds left, making the only three-pointer of the second half for either team, sinking the shot from the top of the key to send it into overtime.
It was 55-55 until Jordan McLaughlin made two free throws with 10 seconds left. Poly tried to tie the score, giving the ball to Prince, but his shot was blocked and Johnson was fouled with three seconds remaining.
McLaughlin finished with 18 points. Tim Myles had 10 points and was a physical presence inside to offset Poly's 6-foot-7 Jordan Bell, who finished with 15 points.
"We've played Poly for so many years," Kleckner said. "We felt like this was our year."
The Eagles will face Mater Dei in Saturday's 8:30 p.m. championship game at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Mater Dei wins
Top-seeded Mater Dei used a three-point onslaught to defeat Inglewood, 65-48, in the other 1AA semifinal game.
Stanley Johnson scored 13 of his 27 points in the second quarter and had 16 rebounds and four assists for the Monarchs (30-1), who were nine of 20 from three-point range and outrebounded Inglewood, 46-28.
Mater Dei trailed by 10 points early in the second quarter but took a 27-23 halftime lead led by back-to-back three-pointers from Johnson and James McGee, who made six of seven three-point shots and had 18 points. Randy Onwuasor led Inglewood with 16 points.