The roles were reversed in the Southern California Regional Open Division championship game Tuesday night in Chatsworth.
A year ago it was Sierra Canyon trying to avenge a loss to Etiwanda in the Southern Section finals, which it did. This time, it was Etiwanda’s chance for revenge and the Eagles made the most of their opportunity, stunning Sierra Canyon on its home court 55-54 and ruining the Trailblazers’ perfect season.
Sophomore point guard Aliyahna Morris drove to the basket and was fouled with 2.4 seconds left. She swished the front end of a one-and-one to give Etiwanda a 55-54 lead, but her second attempt hit the rim. Teammate Sa’lah Hemingway grabbed the rebound but was immediately tied up and a jump ball was called with nine-tenths of a second left. The possession arrow pointed to Sierra Canyon, which inbounded to USC-bound superstar Juju Watkins, who took one dribble and tried to heave the ball but she couldn’t get it off before the buzzer sounded.
Watkins, who finished with 16 points, had rebounded a missed free throw by Morris and driven the length of the floor for a layup to tie the game 54-54 with 11 seconds remaining. Etiwanda advanced the ball across half-court and got it in the hands of Morris to set up the winning free throw.
“I work on those all the time, so I’m surprised when the first one didn’t go,” Morris said of her free throws. “We felt good going into the fourth quarter since no team had been that close to them that late in the game. It was a group effort on [Watkins]. We tried to force her to her left and make it as hard on her as possible.”
Sierra Canyon (31-1) had won every quarter in its 70-57 win in the Southern Section final at Honda Center on Feb. 25 and led 25-18 at halftime Tuesday. However, Etiwanda (31-3) came out firing in the third quarter and pulled even by the end of that frenzied eight minutes.
Etiwanda advances to its first state final under Stan Delus, now in his seventh season at the helm.
“At the end of the day, as poorly as we shot in the first half we were only down seven,” Delus said. “I told the girls that’s only two or three possessions. We were still in a good place defensively, we just had to chip away and not let them go on a run.”
Watkins, who committed to USC in November, was held well below her season average of 24 points and was not even her team’s leading scorer. That was Izela Arenas, daughter of former NBA guard Gilbert Arenas, who finished with 17.
Kennedy Smith had 21 for Etiwanda, Morris had 17 and Hemingway added 13.
Smith sank a three-pointer with 3: 50 left in the third quarter to give Etiwanda its first lead since the opening minutes of the game. She pulled up for another three-pointer in transition to increase the Eagles’ lead to six moments after Arenas drained a three at the other end. The Trailblazers pulled even at 38-38 by the close of the third quarter. Neither team led by more than four points in the fourth quarter.
Etiwanda will play San Jose Archbishop Mitty (28-2) for the state title at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.