Three months ago, after a 38-point drubbing of Fairfax High in the second game of the season, Cleveland Coach Bob Braswell said that he wouldn't be surprised to see Fairfax again in the playoffs.
Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.
In fact, he said he'd look forward to it.
Wednesday night, the end of the season came so fast for Cleveland that if Braswell blinked in the last half-minute, he probably missed the biggest upset of the City Section 4-A Division playoffs. Fairfax scored two baskets in the last nine seconds to steal a 53-51 win from the Cavaliers in a quarterfinal game at Cleveland.
Perhaps Braswell had his fingers crossed behind his back in December, or perhaps he was sincere. There were at least a few hundred with bended digits this time.
"We all had our fingers crossed," Fairfax guard Wylie Menefee said. "Coach just told us to dig deep and hang in there."
And Menefee did just that, then he shoveled the dirt on Cleveland.
The lead changed hands 16 times in the second half. Cleveland, which came into the game ranked No. 2 in the state with an 18-game win streak, took a 51-47 lead with 31 seconds remaining when senior center Warren Harrell made a pair of free throws. Things seemed well in hand when 10 seconds later, Fairfax's Estevan Johnson missed a three-point attempt.
Cleveland guard Adonis Jordan, however, was called for a foul while fighting for the rebound underneath. Menefee, a reserve, made both ends of a one-and-one situation with 20 seconds left, cutting the lead to 51-49.
Jordan was given a chance to atone for the foul when he was hacked after taking control of the inbounds pass one second later.
"I was happy it was him," Braswell said of Jordan, an All-City player, "He's a senior and all. All he had to do was make one."
Jordan, however, missed the front end of the one and one.
Fairfax hustled the ball upcourt, and Menefee--who finished with 10 points, six in the final 52 seconds--rebounded a miss by Rodney Sanders and tossed in a follow shot inside to tie the score with nine seconds left.
As the seconds ticked away, confusion reigned. Cleveland senior forward Lucious Harris--who had made four consecutive free throws in the final two minutes--hurried an inbounds pass that was picked off by Fairfax's John Woolery.
How hectic was it?
"We were in some kind of zone, a 1-2-1-1 trap, I think," Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani said.
"We were in a kind of soft man-to-man," Menefee said. "(Woolery) just stepped in and took it."
Woolery managed to get the ball to Menefee, who passed to Sanders. Sanders moved across the top of the key and threw in an eight-foot jump shot from the right side of the key with two seconds remaining.
The Fairfax team and dozens of fans streamed on the court to maul Sanders, but the officials quickly put another second on the clock. After a timeout, Cleveland inbounded the ball to Harris--who caught it while airborne, wheeled in the air, and missed off the back of the rim from just inside the half-court line.
Cleveland (21-3), as it had in an opening round, 87-59 win over Gardena, played the first half as though it had already secured a trip to the Sports Arena--site of the 4-A semifinals and final. The Cavaliers clanked along and trailed by 10 after one quarter and by one at the half, 23-22. Cleveland reserve Eddie Hill, who finished with a game-high 16 points, scored 10 of Cleveland's 16 points in the second quarter. The Cavaliers made only seven of 25 field-goal attempts in the first 16 minutes.
Fairfax was content to play a halfcourt game at both ends and completely shut off Cleveland's fast break. The Lions (13-11), who had lost a 42-40 decision to Manual Arts--the nation's fifth-ranked team--in Metro League play, know a thing or two about playing in low gear.
"They did a great job of spreading the floor," Braswell said. "Evidently, (playing Manual Arts close) helped them. They know how to win the close ones."