GARDENA — The last time the Leuzinger and Serra boys basketball teams met in late December, Leuzinger was without starters Henry Doherty and Malachi Knight and it showed in a 16-point loss.
This time, in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs Friday, Leuzinger led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter and Serra was struggling to knock down its free throws.
Yet, as the Cavaliers locked down on defense and pulled within 66-61, it was Jeremiah Wilson who finished off the Olympians over the final 49.5 seconds.
Wilson drained a 3-pointer, three free throws and a dunk in the final push to rally host Serra to a 69-66 win over Leuzinger.
Serra (18-12) will visit Arcadia in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
After Wilson cut the deficit to 66-64, Serra got a defensive stop and again found Wilson, who was fouled beyond the arc in the act of shooting with 18.7 seconds left.
He calmly made all three free throws, turning around a night Serra had missed five previously at the line — including three instances it split a pair.
“I just know I put my team in a position to win,” Wilson, who had 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, said. “I had to lock in, focus on my mechanics and hit the free throws.”
Both teams then traded turnovers, and in a scramble near midcourt Wilson emerged and tacked on a dunk with 6 seconds remaining.
“We had to lock in on defense and get a crucial stop,” Wilson said. “That was the play of the game. I just wanted to get up and it felt good.”
Leuzinger (20-8), which in-bounded the ball with 5.2 seconds remaining, got a last look but Knight’s potential game-tying 3-pointer misfired and set off a frantic celebration.
Serra forward Maximo Adams scored a game-high 28 points and point guard Kayleb Kearse chipped in 14 of his 20 in the third quarter.
Leuzinger was paced by Joshua Garland, who finished with 20 points and played through leg cramps in the fourth.
The Olympians made seven of 14 3-pointers through three quarters before missing all four of their attempts in the fourth.
Serra was eight of 20 on 3-pointers, including four from Wilson.
Leuzinger led 45-33 nearing the midway point of the third, but Kearse kept Serra within striking distance by scoring all but two of its points in the quarter.
The Cavaliers, who trailed 54-48 going into the fourth, held the Olympians without a made field goal for the first 5 minutes of the quarter and chipped away.
“We had to pick up our defensive intensity,” Wilson said of the turnaround. “Be tighter on rotations, lock in and play together.”
Trailing 62-59, Wilson and Serra thought it had pulled within a point but he was called for an over-the-back violation and his put-back basket was negated with 1:46 left.
Leuzinger took advantage with back-to-back layups from Knight and Doherty to push the lead to 66-61 with 1:07 to play and set the stage for the wild finish.