The start of the state basketball playoffs this week didn’t go smoothly for Fairfax High.
The Lions learned that standout forward Robert McRae had reinjured his surgically repaired hand in practice, leaving him unavailable for Wednesday’s Southern California Division I Regional opener against host Long Beach Poly.
Coach Steve Baik had a talk with McRae’s replacement, junior Shawn Booker, who at this time last season was playing for tiny Valley Glen Summit View.
“I told him, ‘Make one three each half. Make one layup each half. That’s all we need,’” Baik said. “But he did more.”
Booker made four three-point shots, including two late in the fourth quarter, to help the Lions pull out a 54-49 victory over Poly and send them into a quarterfinal game Saturday at La Verne Damien. He finished with 16 points.
“I knew I could step up for my cousin,” Booker said. “My teammates trusted me.”
Fairfax (26-5) had lost its last two games, close contests against Westchester and Narbonne, when the Lions failed to execute in the fourth quarter. This time, Booker delivered. He made a three with less than three minutes left to give Fairfax a 45-44 lead, and he made two free throws with 28.3 seconds left.
The Lions were able to overcome a huge size disadvantage. Poly (22-9) struggled at trying to get the ball inside to 6-foot-10 Myles Johnson and 6-6 Zafir Williams until the fourth quarter. Then the Jackrabbits started to do a high-low strategy that left the Lions helpless for a while. But Booker received support from Jamal Hartwell, who scored 16 points, and Ethan Anderson, who had 11. And Kirk Smith’s rebounding and blocked shots provided another boost.
But Booker’s contributions were surprising, considering he had to take a huge step up in competition.
“It’s way different,” he said. “I love it.”
Said Baik: “He’s had a huge adjustment, and we’re reaping the benefits now.”
Williams finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds in his final game for Poly. He has signed with Loyola Marymount.
In a competitive opening game, Vista defeated Santa Margarita, 97-94, in double overtime on a three at the buzzer by Isaiah Morris. Jordan Guest scored 27 points for the Eagles.
And Oak Park defeated El Cajon Foothills Christian, 66-65, in overtime. Freshman Clark Slajchert made the game-winning three and finished with 24 points.