Westchester (Calif.) made a cross-country trip worth the miles Monday night by coming from behind in the final minute to win the Beach Ball Classic championship game 42-41 over Scott County (Ky.) at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
Senior forward Kaelen Allen stole the ball near midcourt with 26 seconds remaining and hit both ends of a one-and-one at the free throw line after being fouled to give Westchester a one-point lead.
Allen said he had never been on the free throw line late in a game with a chance to win it for his team. “It was a good moment,” Allen said. “I was nervous before the first free throw but after the first free throw I felt good.”
The Comets (13-1) withstood a pair of three-point attempts in the final 7 seconds by Cam Fluker and Bryce Long that both hit the back of the rim.
“I thought the last one was going to fall for sure, but he missed so thankfully we got the win,’ Allen said.
Scott County (13-1) had a seven-point lead following a free throw by Diablo Stewart with 6:15 to play but was held to just one point thereafter as Westchester slowly cut into the lead.
“It was a great accomplishment for our kids,” Westchester coach Ed Azzam said. “It was as difficult a defensive game we may have ever played since I’ve been coaching. They’re well-coached, they run their stuff with a purpose and they’re just hard to defend. And they’ll run it forever so you’d better play defense forever or else they’re going to score an easy basket on you, and our kids did a great job.”
Scott County missed two of three free throws with a chance to add to its lead in the final 1:30, and Westchester made four of five free throws in the final 50 seconds – two of three by Kevin Bethel and the game-winners by Allen.
Senior guard Jordan Brinson led Westchester with 19 points and a game-high nine rebounds, and Allen finished with 11 points.
Lorenzo Williams led three Cardinals in double-figure scoring with 12 points, and both Stewart and Glenn Covington scored 10 points each.
The Cardinals lost their star, 6-7 senior Michael Moreno, whose offers include Iowa, in the first half of the quarterfinals to a cracked bone in his foot, yet came within two points of winning the title.
“I’m so proud of our kids. I didn’t know how we would play without Michael because all of our plays, everything goes through him,” said Scott County coach Billy Hicks, who expects Moreno to be out of action for between four and six weeks. “It limited our offense because we really didn’t have a starter who knew how to play his position.”
Monday night was Scott County’s first appearance in a championship game in 11 Beach Ball appearances, all since 2001.
Aside from host schools Myrtle Beach and Socastee, that’s the second most tournament appearances behind only Archbishop Molloy (N.Y.).
Despite a winning record of 22-19, Scott County’s best finishes were a pair of fourth-place finishes and a pair of consolation championships.
“It would have been great for this team to win it,” said Hicks, who won his 1,000th game as a high school head coach in the quarterfinals against 273 losses. “If you can win a Beach Ball, the No. 1 tournament in the country, my goodness we’d take that anytime. We’re honored to play in it. I’m just proud of our kids and how we played.”
Westchester, of Los Angeles, has one other Beach Ball appearance in 2016 when the Comets went 3-1, losing in the quarterfinals before going on to win the fifth-place game over Bishop O’Connell (Va.).
The Comets entered the Beach Ball off a loss in the semifinals of the Iolani Classic in Hawaii to fellow California program Sierra Canyon, a top-four national program in MaxPreps Xcellent 25 and Computer Rankings.
“We have a very talented team and when they play together and the bigs play well we’re almost unbeatable – when and or if,” Azzam said.
Westchester started its two dominant inside players in 6-8 senior Ka’veon Batiste and Allen, a 6-6 senior with an offer from Boise State, but did not play the two in the game together after the opening minutes of each half.
“The [Cardinals] are so hard to guard and they don’t really have a true big. They brought one kid that played that we could match up with,” Azzam said. “Our bigs have the ability to go out on the perimeter and guard when they play hard and focus, but they didn’t do it today so I could only have one of them out there at a time.”
Westchester outscored Scott County 20-10 in the paint, though Scott County led 17-6 in points off turnovers with the help of 10 steals, including four by Stewart.
Most Outstanding Player: Wendell Moore Jr., Cox Mill (N.C.)
Most Valuable Player: Jordan Brinson, Westchester (Calif.)
Keith Lane Sportsmanship Award: Kaden Metheny, University (W.Va.)
Hustle Award: R.J. Davis, Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.)
Danny Defensive Award: Lorenzo Williams, Scott County (Ky.)
ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM (all players above are also All-Tournament):
Joquarius Valrie, Yates (Texas)
Michael Green, Myrtle Beach Christian Academy
Chris Ford, North Mecklenburg (N.C.)
Jaylen Forbes, Florence (Miss.)
Montorie Foster, St. Edward (Ohio)
Marcus Dockery, Bishop O’Connell (Va.)
Isaiah Crawford, North Crowley (Texas)
Collin Moore, North Little Rock (Ark.)
Glenn Covington, Scott County (Ky.)
Kaelen Allen, Westchester (Calif.)
Team Sportsmanship Award: St. Edward (Ohio)
Team Hustle Award: Scott County (Ky.)