CHAMPS: Serra became the first school in state history to win
a football and basketball state championships in the same academic
year. Marqise Lee (24) and Irving Lewis (top center) were two of the
Cavaliers with double state gold while Vaughn Autry (holding trophy)
scored the season’s final point. The team dedicated their postseason
run to Autry’s late father Stephen. (Nick Koza for Sentinel)
Serra survives Final Test to Achieve History
63-59 overtime victory gives school second state title in academic year
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Sports Editor
BAKERSFIELD — To say Gardena Serra had to earn their CIF hardware this year is an understatement. It’s more like survive every hurdle possible to achieve history.
Their football team needed overtime to defeat Westlake Village Oaks Christian for their CIF divisional title and sweated out a grind-it-out- game against Marin Catholic to win the Division III state title.
So was it surprising that the basketball team needed overtime to win the Division III state title?
The Cavaliers’ (35-2) 63-59 victory over Oakland Bishop O’Dowd at Rabobank Arena made them the first program in state history with two state championships in the same school year. But history took a back seat to the roller coaster journey in getting to the arena.
The postseason run was dedicated to Stephen Autry, the father of senior guard Vaughn Autry who died before the team’s first playoff game. Prior to that, they dealt with high expectations of having the best chance to win the school’s first state title since 1993.
“It was emotional getting here,” Serra head coach Dwan Hurt said. “I just told the guys to have fun and make it memorable.”
The game was almost memorable for the wrong reasons. Serra shot only 31 percent from the field and nearly blew a late lead in the fourth quarter. Up 54-47 with four minutes left in regulation, O’Dowd went on a 7-0 run to tie the game and send it to overtime.
However, that’s where Serra came through in the clutch on both sides of the ball.
The offense from junior Ronnie Stevens, whose rebound and put-back with 19.7 seconds left gave Serra a 62-59 lead.
“I was reminded of what we were playing for and it gave me the will to get that rebound,” Stevens said of his only field goal of the game.
The defense came from junior Marqise Lee, who had two steals in the extra frame and blocked a potential game tying-three pointer with 10 seconds left.
“I knew I had to do something big so I was ready to make the defensive stop,” said Lee, who also had a key interception in the Division III football final.
Lee, George Farmer, Bene Benwikere – whose one handed tip-jam in the second quarter will be talked about for years by those who saw it – and Irving Lewis made history with the football-basketball hardware.
There could be more hardware in line for Lee, Farmer and Benwikere as they join the track team, expected to be one of the favorites to win state this spring.
Benwikere said that the basketball title means more because it was more exciting and intense. Lee said it was “50-50″. But both compared the game as being just as difficult as beating Oaks Christian in December.
The breaks were even similar. Oaks Christian missed an easy extra point that gave Serra a chance to win. O’Dowd forward Richard Longrus was whistled for a lane violation with teammate Jordan Barton at the line with the chance to put them ahead with 5.5 seconds left.
It was only natural, then, that Autry seal the deal. After missing the first of two free throws, he hit the final one with eight seconds left to score the final point of the game and season.
“I was seeing my dad sit in a chair telling me to make the shot,” Autry said. “I felt his presence calming me down.”
The team carried Stephen Autry’s memory on the court as their black Superman warm-up shirts had the number “15” on the back – Autry’s jersey number when he played at Beverly Hills High School.
“We knew he was here,” Hurt said, a reference to Autry’s final words that he would be with the team in Bakersfield.
At the postgame press conference, Vaughn Autry was relieved to just not honor his memory but gain something in the process. He looked at the sky after the game as if to see his dad smiling down on him.
“Losing my dad was hard but this cheered me up,” he said, “I have 14 brothers, two sisters and a whole bunch of uncles now.”
For Hurt, a Serra alum in his 24th year of coaching, it took 17 years to get back to the mountaintop and he admitted that with all of the hurdles this team had to overcome – this one stands out just above that first title.
“I appreciate this one a lot more,” he said.