PLAYING FOR DAD: Serra senior guard Vaughn Autry and his team has played this postseason with a heavy heart and extra motivation after his father Stephen Autry passed away on Feb. 13. The elder Autry promised Serra head coach Dwan Hurt that he would meet the team in Bakersfield, site of this week's state championships, and the Cavaliers have honored that appointment by reaching their first state final since 1993. (Scott Kurtz for Sentinel) STRONG PLAY: Westchester forward Reggie Murphy (14 points and rebounds) was the difference in the Comets' win over Mater Dei to send them to the Division I state championship (Scott Kurtz for Sentinel) PRICE IS RIGHT: Gatorade State Player of the Year Allen Crabbe (center) shares a laugh with teammates Casey Trujeque (left) and Skylar Spencer as the Knights advanced to their seventh state championship game, and first appearance since 2005.
Serra makes good on Bakersfield appointment
Black uniforms in Saturday's victory kept fallen parent close to their heart.
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Sports Editor
It was hard to miss the symbolism when Gardena Serra took the court in the Southern California Division III state regional final last week.
For the first time in school history, they wore black uniforms. Senior guard Vaughn Autry took the Cavaliers' first shot, a 3-pointer, and nailed it - setting Serra off to a 74-50 victory over Compton Centennial.
It was fitting, given that Serra dedicated this postseason run to his father Stephen, who passed away right before their first playoff game of congestive heart failure. And now, they are one game away from fulfilling their promise to him by winning a state championship.
"I'm going to see my friend in Bakersfield," Hurt said. "He told me he'd be there, and I know for sure he'll be there."
Calling Autry a friend barely described the impact he had on the Serra team. He frequently hosted the team for meals and was a "coach off the floor" in Hurt's words. The black uniforms were a tribute to him as a last minute surprise from longtime assistant Dennis Wynn.
The team found out after the pregame sportsmanship meeting when Keith Shamburger and Vaughn Autry were confused about both teams wearing white. To their surprise, the jerseys were waiting for them in the locker room.
Autry admitted afterwards to being emotional and briefly covered his face when Hurt retold the story. As for his first shot, he said, "It was a heat check because I felt good during the warm-ups."
Call it his version of Bo Kimble's left-handed free throw, the famous tribute to fallen teammate Hank Gathers.
In his 24th year of coaching at Serra, Hurt has done one of his finest jobs in guiding this team in the face of high expectations and adversity.
The Cavaliers have set a school record with 33 wins and won their first CIF title since 2006. It comes on the heels of the football team going 15-0 to win a CIF and state title in December.
"It's been a great ride," he said.
But the tragedy of Autry's passing put this team's success in perspective. It made their ride to Bakersfield that much sweeter, that much more important.
The Cavaliers have the chance to win their first state title in basketball since 1993 and be the first school in state history to win in both sports in the same school year. And Autry's memory will no doubt rest heavy when they take the floor against Bishop O'Dowd.
MURPHY BECOMING COMETS' NOT-SO-SECRET WEAPON
If there was a most improved player in the City Section, I'd award it to Westchester center Reggie Murphy who is continuing to develop into a solid post player.
The 6-9 senior was the difference against Mater Dei in the Division I final with his 14 points and 14 rebounds as well as disrupting shots in the paint.
Last year, Murphy showed little indication of being an impact player until the postseason where he began reducing his mistakes. No one could imagine that a year later, he'd be a key factor in a matchup between the No. 1 and 2 teams in the state.
"Murphy was a big body down there" Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight said.
He's come a long way and the Comets couldn't be happier as their balance makes them a favorite to win their sixth state title when they face Newark Memorial on Saturday.
LB POLY's DRIVE FOR FIVE
It's almost become old hat to say this - Long Beach Poly will be playing for the Division I state girls championship.
It's been said for the past four seasons and it'll be said for a fifth after the Jackrabbits defeated Fresno Clovis West 68-53.
No team in state history has won five consecutive state titles. Price went to six consecutive Division V state championship games from 2000-2005, losing only in 2004 to end their four year reign.
However, history might as well be another team they find a way to defeat. Nothing matters except the game at hand.
"It'll mean more when we do it," senior guard Brittany Wilson said.
"A game is a game. It feels like another one to us," added junior guard Tajanae Winston.
The typical swagger and laidback attitude were on display at the postgame press conference where answers were straight forward with an air of silliness as the Poly girls enjoyed the experience.
Wilson, her sister Ashley, Thaddesia Southall and Jazzmine Shirley have never lost a state regional game and hope to join ex-teammate Kelli Thompson with four state championships in their career.
What makes this Poly team different from previous years is the lack of big name talent despite six Division I players on their roster. There are no All-Americans like Jasmine Dixon (now at UCLA) and Monique Oliver (now at USC) and nobody averages double figures in scoring
But here they are. A balanced, deep team that just wins and is back in the Division I state title game.
"We don't need any [All-Americans] or 40-point scorers to be here," Wilson said.
COMPTON PROVES ITSELF IN DEFEAT
For three quarters, Compton outscored San Diego Lincoln. Unfortunately, the one they didn't win was their downfall.
They were outscored 27-10 in the third quarter, turning a 28-22 halftime lead into a 49-38 deficit they couldn't overcome and fell short 60-52 in the Division II boys final.
"The third quarter has been our Achilles' heel all season," Compton coach Tony Thomas said. "[Lincoln] just came out hungrier than us."
Junior guard Allan Guei added, "Usually we have the lead so we relax a bit. Today it came back to haunt us."
It didn't help that the Tarbabes shot 28.1% from the field. But just getting to this point said that the program is escaping the shadow of DeMar DeRozan.
Two seasons ago, the Toronto Raptors guard led them to the Division I-A quarterfinals. After a rebuilding year in 2008-09, they went further than they did with DeRozan.
"I knew we'd get to this point soon but I didn't know when," Thomas said. "Nobody believed in us all season"
Added senior Cliff Sims Jr. who played with DeRozan two years ago: "We showed we could win without DeMar. The talk around town was that we weren't good but we came out and showed everybody wrong."