The combined attendance Saturday night for four high school championship basketball games played at Honda Center was 12,501. Those who stuck around to witness the final seconds of the nightcap were treated to one of the most electrifying endings in Southern Section playoff history.
The scene: Underdog Bellflower St. John Bosco was in position to be the Open Division slayer of defending champion Corona Centennial.
“We had the ball and the last shot of a tie game,” St. John Bosco coach Matt Dunn said. “That’s what you dream of coming in.”
With 31 seconds left, the Braves got the ball to sophomore guard Elzie Harrington, who was supposed to use a screen at the top of the key to free himself for a final shot. All-American Jared McCain was guarding him. The screen didn’t work, so Harrington dribbled toward the baseline, where McCain got defensive help from Eric Freeny.
With nowhere to go, Harrington passed the ball toward Brandon McCoy at the free-throw line with four seconds left. That’s when Aaron McBride deflected it, gained possession near half court, used two dribbles and delivered an emphatic dunk as time expired for a stunning 58-56 Centennial victory and the Huskies’ third consecutive Open Division championship.
“Whatever you ask, that was a blur,” Centennial coach Josh Giles said. “Regular season, playoffs, that’s the craziest ending ever.”
On Sunday afternoon, the brackets were released for the state playoffs, and Centennial received the No. 1 seed in a five-team Southern California Regional Open Division. At 29-3, the Huskies continue to be the favorite to reach Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on March 11 to repeat as state champions. They will host the winner of Santa Clarita West Ranch-San Diego Augustine on Saturday night. The other semifinal will have St. John Bosco hosting Studio City Harvard-Westlake.
Centennial is on a memorable three-season run in which the Huskies haven’t lost to any team from California since May 28, 2021, when Harvard-Westlake won 70-65 in a playoff game.
The question continues to be what will it take to beat Centennial?
“We had them where we wanted to be with Elzie and a ball screen,” Dunn said. “Obviously the worst thing possible happened. We thought we could [beat them]. I have a group of guys that believe in themselves and are really talented. We came in here to win and so it really hurts not to.”
Others want the chance to take on Centennial.
“It’s a second opportunity,” Harvard-Westlake coach David Rebibo said earlier this week of the regional playoffs. “We’re excited. We’ve had a great week of practice.”
The Wolverines (30-2) were left out of playing for an Open Division championship because of a loss in pool play to St. John Bosco. Now they get a rematch on the road instead of at home.
Can any team defeat Centennial?
“They have really elite guard play and really elite bigs and everyone plays their role,” Sherman Oaks Notre Dame coach Matt Sargeant said. “It sounds simple, but that’s basketball in a nutshell. Really good players doing defined things that compliment each other. If Devin Williams and Aaron McBride are locked in, I don’t know if anyone beats them.”
Notre Dame gets relief and won’t play in the Open Division. The Knights were given the No. 1 seed in a 16-team Division I field and will host Fairfax on Tuesday. Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, which has lost six of its last eight games, is seeded No. 3 and will host City Section champion Woodland Hills Taft on Tuesday. It will be a reunion for Taft coach Derrick Taylor and Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier, who used to coach at Reseda Cleveland.
“We’ve gained 600 victories, a little weight, lost some hair but hopefully we’ve gained knowledge,” Taylor said.
The CIF decided five teams was also the limit for Open Division girls, with No. 1 Sierra Canyon receiving a bye. The Trailblazers will host the winner of Santa Ana Mater Dei-Newport Beach Sage Hill on Saturday. The other semifinal will have Etiwanda at La Jolla Country Day.
As for St. John Bosco, Dunn has a week to let his team forget about Saturday’s conclusion. Sitting on the bench during the awards presentation, Dunn’s hands were clutching his face as if he was trying to comprehend what just happened.
He was asked, “What will you say to your players?”
“I’m not sure. I will tell them I love them and I’m proud of them,” he said.
They might get a rematch with Centennial on March 7 with one more victory.