You could see the impact of playing in a Fairfax-Westchester basketball game in pregame warmups Friday night. Players were jumping higher, clapping louder and breathing harder. Fans were pouring into the Westchester gym to create the usual loud, entertaining environment.
The game produced tough defense on both sides, but in the end, the senior leadership provided by four-year varsity players Ethan Anderson and Robert McRae propelled Fairfax past Westchester 50-48 in the first of what could be three meetings between two of the top City Section basketball teams.
“Big-time defense and great job rebounding,” Fairfax coach Steve Baik said.
“We were out of sync,” Westchester coach Ed Azzam said. “The second half we were making shots. We couldn’t make shots in the first half. We had the two biggest guys out there and couldn’t get an offensive rebound. We have to get better.”
Fairfax (19-1) opened a 12-point lead in the third quarter and led by 10 points in the fourth quarter until All-City guard Jordan Brinson finally got going. He scored five straight points and Kevin Bethel made a three-pointer to get the Comets within 42-40 with just over four minutes left.
But free-throws kept the Lions in front. It was McRae’s two free throws with 23.1 seconds left that gave Fairfax a four-point cushion and helped clinched the win.
“We played hard and moved the ball a lot and got everybody into the flow of the game,” McRae said.
Anderson finished with 23 points and McRae scored 16. Brinson and Kaelen Allen each scored 15 points. The Fairfax strategy was to provide help whenever the 6-foot-6 Allen got the ball inside. Westchester (18-2) couldn’t hit open shots when needed.
Fairfax players hardly celebrated when the final buzzer sounded after Brinson made a meaningless three-pointer. Players know they have another game with Westchester on Jan. 31 at Fairfax to decide the No. 1 playoff seed, and perhaps a third one in the City Section Open Division final.
“This game doesn’t mean nothing until we get that City championship,” McRae said.
Said Baik: “We have to keep getting better because I know Westchester will.”
Fairfax is on a schedule that will see the Lions play seven games in nine days. They are playing Long Beach Poly on Saturday in the Nike Extravaganza at Santa Ana Mater Dei for their third game in three days since the end of the teachers’ strike.
The game brought out two of the greatest players in City Section history. Watching from the Westchester bleachers was Dwayne Polee, the City player of the year from Manual Arts. His son, Dwayne Jr., played for the Comets. On the Fairfax side was City Section Hall of Famer John Williams, the City player of the year from Crenshaw. His son, Daylen, plays for the Lions. The crowd surely would have enjoyed the two playing a game of H-O-R-S-E. … Halftime was marred by a near-fight among Westchester students.