WESTLAKE VILLAGE – Injury or not, there was no way of keeping Eric Cooper Jr. on the bench for Tuesday night's Southern Section playoff game. The junior guard from La Verne Lutheran understood the importance of his presence out on the floor for his teammates.
Despite a troublesome finger on his shooting hand, Cooper Jr. logged major minutes for the Trojans and was an all-important steadying presence down the stretch as they avoided an upset with a 60-58 victory over host Oaks Christian in a Division 4AA quarterfinal game.
“At this stage of the game, you have to stick it out and fight through some things in order to get the job done,'' Cooper Jr. said. “Nothing is going to keep me out of the lineup. I just taped up my finger, went out there and did my thing. It's the playoffs, that's what you do.''
The Lions (22-6) had a chance to win the game. Luckily for La Verne Lutheran (22-6), Chass Bryan's 3-pointer hit off the back iron just before the buzzer sounded.
If not for Cooper Jr., the Trojans might have been in trouble. Starting point guard Brian Beard picked up three fouls in the first five minutes and was forced to the sidelines. The Arizona-bound Cooper Jr. finished with six points, four rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes.
“Eric might need to have surgery,'' said his father and Trojans coach Eric Cooper Sr. “I think he has a dislocated right index finger, his shooting hand, and a possible break too. We're going to see the doctor on Monday. He says his discomfort is at an eight on a scale to 10. I don't think so. He would not be able to play. Still, we're trying to be cautious about things.''
Cooper Jr. had help along the way, of course. Grant Jerrett scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the first half as La Verne Lutheran rallied from eight-point deficit. The 6-foot-10 senior post and Arizona commit also contested Bryan's potential game-winner.
Bryan kept the Lions close and finished with 18 points.
His teammate, Michael Roletti, nearly played the role of spoiler. He made four three-pointers in the fourth quarter alone and ended up with 18 points of his own.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.