With one of its best players, Donald Gipson, sitting in agony with an ice pack on his injured left knee after hearing a pop in the first quarter, the Fairfax High basketball team faced the kind of adversity Tuesday night that can easily lead to defeat.
The Lions fell behind by six points at halftime to Etiwanda in a semifinal game of the Open Division Southern California Regionals. The question in the packed Fairfax gym was, who's going to step up for Gipson? The answer was everybody.
"We just decided we needed to come back and do it for him," center Foster Dixson said. "In the locker room, we talked about what to do. We got up into their faces."
Renewed defensive intensity and standout play from Lorne Currie, Lindsey Drew and Isaiah Ajiboye propelled the Lions to a 58-50 victory over Etiwanda in what had to be one of the most satisfying wins in Coach Harvey Kitani's 34-year tenure at the school.
"The guys all stepped up and fed off each other," Kitani said. "This group all year has been special."
Currie scored 23 points, Drew had 13 and Ajiboye 11. Drew also had 12 rebounds and eight assists. Fairfax (32-2) earned a spot in Saturday's 8 p.m. regional final at the Pyramid in Long Beach against the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between Santa Ana Mater Dei and Torrance Bishop Montgomery.
Everything changed in the third quarter for the Lions. After the eight minutes had elapsed, the Lions had turned a six-point deficit into a seven-point advantage.
"Donald not playing helped motivate us," said Drew, who took charge by scoring nine points in the quarter. "We just put the game on our backs. It shows our determination."
Kameron Edwards scored 20 points for Etiwanda (25-9), which seemed ready to take control in the second quarter by opening a 10-point advantage as Fairfax tried to deal with the absence of Gipson, who went down with 4:13 left in the first quarter.
The scene was not a good one. Fairfax has no athletic trainer, so administrators and coaches tried to assist Gipson, who was taken to a chair on the Fairfax sideline. He left at halftime to be seen by a doctor. His availability is uncertain.
"I hope it's a mild sprain," Kitani said.