What figured to be the best matchup in the opening round of the Southern Section Division I-A boys' basketball playoffs Friday night ended up being a little more than most bargained for.
Cerritos High School guard Warren Thomas made three free throws in the final 18 seconds of a second overtime to beat Huntington Beach, 76-74.
Cerritos (18-8) appeared to have the game won in regulation, but Huntington Beach forward Andy Kijewski scored on a short bank shot with three seconds remaining that sent the game into overtime tied at 68.
Huntington Beach (17-9) appeared to have the game won in the first overtime. But guard Tom Walden's short follow shot at the buzzer bounced out of the basket, signaling another three-minute extra period.
Huntington Beach's chances of winning the postseason game diminished when its star forward, Mustapha Abdi, fouled out with 1 minute 11 seconds remaining in the first overtime. Abdi had scored 26 of the Oilers' 39 points from midway through the second quarter until he fouled out with 30 points and 12 rebounds.
Earlier in the week, Cerritos Coach Jim Chapel had predicted that one player wasn't going to beat his team. Abdi nearly did, scoring on drives to the basket, three-point shots and baseline jumpers.
But when the three-year starter fouled out, Huntington Beach appeared to be confused offensively without its leader. And when the game was finally over, Abdi openly wept on the bench.
"I know he's hurting," said Roy Miller, Huntington Beach coach. "He did all that he could. When he fouled out, we just tried to spread the court and isolate to get some one-on-one situations.
"Once Mustapha fouled out, there was tremendous pressure on our younger players (three sophomore starters). I knew it was going to be a tough game, because they had a premier player and we had Mustapha."
Cerritos guard Mark Flick, who has signed with UC Santa Barbara, scored 18 points but wasn't a factor in the second half when the Dons overcame a 38-29 halftime deficit. Flick scored only six points in the second half and was shut out in the two overtimes.
Instead, forward Kesojn Hornbeck carried Cerritos in the second half and overtimes, scoring 14 of his 20 points, including a layup and a tip-in in the second overtime period. Hornbeck also did a creditable job guarding Abdi.
"We didn't play with any intensity in the first half, but I thought we did good defensively and hitting the boards after halftime," said Jim Chapel, Cerritos coach. "Thomas made the free throws . . . that's the reason he's in the game at that point. He's one of our best free-throw shooters."
Huntington Beach, tri-champion of the Sunset League with Marina and Edison, opened a 22-9 lead in the first quarter behind the play of center Matt Ambrose. Ambrose had eight points in the period, but he managed to get only six more points the remainder of the game.