By Eric Stephens, Correspondent
A thing of beauty it wasn't. Any application for classic status should be quickly revoked.
The rematch between Westchester and Fairfax, the two leading L.A. City Section title contenders, didn't come close to resulting in a game worth reminiscing among their all-time matchups. Still, someone was going to emerge a winner with first place in the Western League on the line - somehow.
Fairfax won a game of survival Friday night, withstanding its own mistakes by toughening itself up on the defensive end from start to finish in a 49-42 victory over the Comets to forge a first-place tie at Westchester High.
What does it mean for the two state and nationally recognized basketball powers? Barring a shocker to close out league play next week, Fairfax and Westchester will share the Western title after the Lions (20-3, 9-1) avenged their only league loss at the hands of the Comets.
A third meeting only figures to be in the offing, most likely for the L.A. City championship. It's something the two schools are all too familiar with.
"I believe we're the two top teams in the City," Westchester coach Ed Azzam said. "We'll see how it plays out. When we get down to the semifinals and the final, we'll know."
Renardo Sidney, the Lions' highly recruited power forward, further burnished his credentials as the top player in the City this season by scoring a game-high 26 points and hauling down 20 rebounds..
The Comets' 10-game winning streak came to an end amidst a flurry of missed shots and uncharacteristic sloppy play for virtually the entire game. The only other loss Westchester (22-2, 9-1) took this season came on Dec. 20 in a Florida tournament, a 60-54 defeat at the hands of Winter Park (Fla.) in the City of Palms Classic.
Westchester had just one lead in the game and turned the ball over 14 times. It managed to hang around all game and had a chance to steal a win in the end.
Dwayne Polee gave the Comets their only lead with 2:22 remaining on a driving shot off the glass. Fairfax answered with a decisive stretch to close the game, with Lance Bailey getting a steal and layup and Sidney added a slam dunk.
Sidney made five free throws, including two with 39.6 seconds left and two more with 23.4 ticks remaining. Down, 45-42, the Comets had a chance but Dominique O'Connor passed up on a 3-point try, instead drawing a foul before missing two free throws that killed the comeback.
"We were impatient offensively and when we had opportunities to knock down open shots, we just didn't do it," Azzam said. "We missed a ton of free throws that we don't normally do. We missed free throws in the fourth quarter.
"Guys normally shoot very well. I guess we weren't focused."
A standing-room-only crowd was anticipating something special, particularly after Westchester won an entertaining 78-73 matchup in the first go-round Jan.16. Instead, it was a defensive struggle from the outset with both teams combining for just 30 first-half points.