With high school sports suspended, prep columnist Eric Sondheimer is looking back on some of the most memorable championship games in Southern California.
There never has been a Southern Section championship basketball game quite like the 2015 Division 2AA final between Anaheim Canyon and Lawndale at the Honda Center.
Canyon trailed by 28 points in the third quarter, was down by 22 points to start the fourth quarter and ended up winning 103-98 in double overtime.
“It felt like a ‘Rocky’ fight and we weren’t Rocky,” Lawndale coach Chris Brownlee said. “We were a mix between Apollo and Drago.”
It was the first 100-point game in Southern Section championship history. It was the most combined points in championship history. It was the most points by a losing team in championship history.
“Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Brownlee said. “I don’t think the records from that game will ever be broken.”
Lawndale opened a 61-33 lead playing perhaps the best it has ever played in the third quarter. But Canyon coach Nathan Harrison knew something very important about its opponent. Lawndale had been blowing leads much of the season.
“We had film on them,” Harrison said. “They hadn’t lost but we saw teams come back down big. It didn’t look good. They were getting dunk after dunk on us. I don’t know why we thought we had a chance, but we felt we did. The kids started believing they could do it and we believed they could do it, and the rest is history.”
The Comanches started making threes and Lawndale was missing free throws after threes. Also, Lawndale’s guards were in foul trouble, leading to turnovers.
Lawndale still had a chance to win in the final seconds of regulation but a missed free throw that led to the first overtime. Despite the shock from the collapse, Lawndale scored the first five points of the first overtime. But Canyon kept fighting. Guard Nick Anderson, who finished with 37 yards, was making shot after shot. Lawndale made 28 turnovers, missed 16 free throws but made 65% of its shots. Chimezie Metu, the 6-foot-10 USC-bound senior, had 24 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks.
Asked what he would do differently, Brownlee said, “I would have taken the pressure off. We were pressing a lot. I would have relaxed more to be able to execute down the stretch. The journey was great to get there and the game was amazing while we were winning. We regrouped in overtime and needed one stop but couldn’t get it done.”
Afterward, Lawndale players went to the media room, then skipped the showers. “We were in such shock we just went on the bus and left,” Brownlee said.
The next year, Brownlee ended up helping coach at Gardena Serra for three months under the legendary Dwan Hurt, who died on Nov. 25, 2016. The next day, Brownlee’s father, Edward, died. “It was tough,” he said.
Brownlee returned to coach at Lawndale last season. Metu would go on to be a standout at USC, a second-round draft choice and donated money to help Lawndale’s basketball program.
Harrison said every time he runs into players from the 2015 basketball team, they have a big grin remembering what they accomplished in their comeback.
“We got something over everyone,” Harrison said. “It’s the first thing everyone wants to talk about even though it’s five years ago.”