From its very first basketball game on Nov. 21 through Saturday night, Lake Balboa Birmingham had been considered the City Section's No. 1 team. Yet, there were still doubters questioning whether the Patriots could actually win their first championship.
Standing in the way was 13-time champion Westchester, a team that grinds on offense, plays aggressive defense and doesn't like being dismissed.
Early in the second quarter, when Westchester opened a 10-point lead at Cal State Dominguez Hills, the Patriots met the challenge by running off a streak of 18 consecutive points to end the half. They opened a 20-point lead in the third quarter, but Westchester refused to go quietly.
Midway through the fourth quarter, standout Devante Doutrive had fouled out and Westchester had closed to within four points.
With pressure growing, it was left to Doutrive's brother, Devonaire, and point guard Deschon Winston, to bail out the Patriots in a nerve-racking fourth quarter. When the buzzer sounded, Birmingham had secured an 85-80 victory and the school's first title since it opened in 1953-54.
"I knew when we were up they weren't going to quit," Birmingham Coach Nick Halic said. "A lot of people got nervous when Devante went out, but we've been in that situation before."
Winston was six for six on free throws in the fourth quarter and finished with 19 points. Devonaire had 24 points, including nine in the fourth quarter.
It was an emotional ending, with Devante jumping on top of the scorer's table to wave to Birmingham fans. He had 25 points before fouling out.
Westchester was able to fight back behind Marquis Moore and Chris Simmons, both of whom finished with 16 points. Luis Rodriguez added 15.
Birmingham used its fastbreak and transition game to score 22 consecutive points in the second and third quarters.
The Comets, however, regrouped. Simmons got hot from outside and made four three-pointers overall.
The game was a rematch of the Redondo tournament championship game won by Birmingham in November. Both teams had improved greatly.
Birmingham will move on to the state Open Division playoffs next week, with a likely opening game against Chino Hills, a team that the Patriots have wanted to play all season.