TORRANCE -- They play for him, Stephen Autry. His memory lives on.
Right around this time last month, Autry, father of Vaughn Autry, a senior on the Gardena Serra boys’ basketball team, died suddenly of congestive heart failure at 42. As one can imagine, the tragedy came as a shock to everyone closely associated with the Cavaliers, both on and off the court.
There was a period of grieving, of course. How could there not be? Shortly thereafter, resolve became the top priority for Serra. Resolve to play with heavy hearts and honor an individual who was such an integral part of the program.
“Stephen Autry would’ve been proud of the kids tonight,’’ Serra coach Dwan Hurt said after Saturday’s Southern California Regional playoff game in which the Cavaliers rallied from a seven-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Huntington Beach Ocean View, 50-45, in a Division III semifinal at El Camino College.
“He was a father figure to most of them," Hurt added. “Stephen was around these guys all the time. It didn‘t matter if it was a practice, a game, or just at his home where everyone of the players was always welcomed.’’
Ocean View (29-5) put a scare into the top-seeded Cavaliers (32-2), jumping out to a 41-34 lead at the end of three quarters of back-and-forth play.
The fact the Seahawks were able to keep things close is even more impressive when considering one of their top players, Avery Johnson, went down because of an ankle injury early in the first quarter and did not return.
Anthony Brown picked up the scoring slack. The Stanford-bound senior guard scored 12 of his team-high 17 points in the first half. Ultimately, his efforts came up short though.
Keith Shamburger, Marquise Lee and Craig Carter made countless big baskets down the stretch, none bigger than Carter’s three-pointer to give Serra a three-point advantage with 40 seconds left.
“We wanted to win this game for Big Poppa, that’s what everyone called my dad,’’ said Autry, who nearly played the entire game and finished with five points. “We’re always thinking about him. Most of us have his intitials on our shoes and socks. He was always there for us. We're still there for him.’’
Lee finished with 16 points, Shamburger had 12 and Carter ended up with nine points for the Cavaliers, who took a 32-26 lead at the half.
“He was a second father to me,’’ Shamburger said of Stephen Autry. “I miss talking to him. He meant a lot to me, a lot to this team. He was our No. 1 supporter. We won this game for him. We know he was watching over us.’’