In the strangest of twists, Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame called upon a 14-year-old freshman named Kobe to deliver victory on Thursday in the state Division V championship game against Playa del Rey St. Bernard at Sleep Train Arena.
With 11.1 seconds left, star guard Jade' Smith was fouled and hit the court. With no timeouts left and Smith needing medical attention, 5-foot-5 Kobe Keiner was sent in to try to make two free throws to ice the game. St. Joseph Notre Dame led, 52-50. Keiner made both free throws, enabling the Pilots to come away with a 55-50 win and their sixth state title.
"I was pretty relaxed," Keiner said.
St. Bernard (19-17) fell behind early, closed the gap in the fourth quarter, finally tying the game with 5:53 left on two free throws by Julian Ross. But Smith was tough to stop throughout. The 6-foot-3 junior guard finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
"It was really tough to overcome their three-point shooting early," St. Bernard Coach Mitch Runco said.
Ross and Robert Fuller each finished with 15 points for St. Bernard.
As for Keiner, his only points were the two free throws. And he didn't have time to get nervous when Coach Don Lippi picked him to substitute for Smith.
"I didn't realize until he told me," he said.
Keiner is not named after Kobe Bryant. His named is pronounced Ko-bay in Japanese.
But he came through in the clutch like Kobe Bryant.