- Blair Angulo, Reporter, WeAreSC.com
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LA VERNE -- As his team scrambled on defense in the final seconds, La Verne Lutheran basketball coach Eric Cooper's heart didn't skip one beat. Or so he says.
Cooper has seen late-game theatrics far too often this season to be fazed by another frantic finish, but he might be due for a trip to the cardiologist in the offseason after Friday night's thriller at the University of La Verne.
McDonald's All-American forward Grant Jerrett missed two free throws with 14 seconds remaining, and Crespi raced to the other end looking for the tie or the win. Michael Milligan's runner didn't fall, Jerrett grabbed the rebound and heaved the ball into the air, securing a 51-49 victory and a trip to the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA championship game for a meeting against top-seeded Gardena Serra at Anaheim Arena. The date and time is scheduled to be announced Monday.
It was the second consecutive nail-biter for two-time defending state champion Lutheran (24-6), which escaped with a 50-48 victory at Oaks Christian in the quarterfinals.
"It's been like that all season. We had a quadruple overtime game, two double overtime games," Cooper said smiling. "That's the type of season we've had. If Crespi would have made the last shot to send the game into overtime, it wouldn't have fazed me. That kind of stuff has been happening to us."
Jerrett, an Arizona signee, finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.
"With Grant, you've always got a chance," Cooper said.
Sophomore point guard Brian Beard Jr. sank a desperation 3-pointer from about 40 feet out as the shot clock expired to give the second-seeded Trojans a seven-point lead with less than two minutes remaining. It grew to nine points with 1:10 left.
"I just threw the ball up," Beard said. "I prayed that it went in. It was all net. It felt good when it left my hand, though. It went in."
The Celts responded but didn't have enough. Milligan had a team-high 16 points. London Perrantes only had eight and just one field goal.
The Trojans built a 24-17 halftime lead behind Eric Cooper Jr., who for the second consecutive game played with a broken finger in his right shooting hand. They showed various looks defensively: zones, man-to-man and half-court presses. Crespi (23-7) was held to 23 points through three quarters but exploded for 26 in the fourth.
"These last few games have been stressful to me, too," Beard said. "We let teams come back but we came out with wins. That's all you can ask for."
Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.
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