Tuesday was a cold day in Southern California–fortunately, Long Beach Poly had a flamethrower. On the heat of 25 points from senior Gabe Cummings, the Jackrabbits were able to outlast Foothill on the road in the CIF-SS Division 2AA semifinals. Cummings’ last shot won the game for Poly breaking a tie score with 38 seconds left, and helping propel Poly to a 50-45 victory.
The Jackrabbits will be on the road as they try to win their 21st championship in program history at Village Christian on Friday.
“I started off cold but my teammates put that confidence in me and told me to keep shooting,” said Cummings. “I kept taking shots and I started making them. It feels amazing to have a chance to play for a championship. We love playing in front of these big crowds on the road, these games are tough to win, you need a lot of team grit.”
Cummings started the game 0/4 from three but contributed three layups in the first half, as Poly trailed 24-22 at the break. It was almost all Cummings from that point on. He was 4/4 from 3-point range in the second half and 4/4 from inside the arc, putting up 16 points in the third quarter alone. Cummings had 19 of his team’s 28 points in the second half.
“He can shoot man, we always know he can shoot,” said Poly coach Shelton Diggs. “We stay confident in him and he stays confident. That’s how it’s been for us this playoffs, you never know who’s going to step up, it’s been Gabe, Chris, Jovani, other guys too. This team is like that.”
Poly showed out defensively, holding the Knights to 45 points. In Poly’s four playoff wins they’ve allowed 43, 46, 48, and 45 points. Diggs said Poly executed its gameplan of taking away 3-pointers (Foothill made just one) and transition baskets.
“Their guard is good and (Darron ‘Budda’ Henry) did a hell of a job on him, we were okay with them dumping it down to their big but he was going to need 30 and 20 to beat us like that,” said Diggs. Foothill’s big, Braedyn Bernhard, had a team-high 16 points in the win.
Offensively for Poly, the night belonged to Cummings. He hit his first 3-point attempt to open the second half and the floodgates opened after that. He hit his next three to put Poly up 30-24, then and and-one and a layup to make it 35-26 midway through the third. An 8-0 run for Foothill brought them within a point, but Cummings hit another mid-range shot and another 3-pointer to make it 40-36 Poly. After Foothill’s only 3 of the game, a Chris Watson layup made it 42-39 going to the fourth.
The Knights opened on a 6-0 run to take a three-point lead, but Ruff stepped up huge as a freshman and tied the game with two free throws with 1:13 left. Cummings made the game-winning shot with 38 seconds left, on another three, the only field goal Poly made all fourth quarter. Watson came in clutch at the free throw line after a Foothill miss to seal the game and send Poly to a championship matchup on Friday.
“This is why you come to Poly, to play for your city and to play for championships,” said Diggs. “I’m so happy for this senior group. Everybody in this senior class played on the freshmen team as freshmen. I knew this was a special class to build with and I wanted them to play and grow together. They built it with us from the ground up–they wanted to win a championship and that’s what they’ve came to do every night.”
Cummings’ 25 was backed up by 11 from Watson and 10 from Ruff.