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Sierra Canyon edges Etiwanda for Open Division girls basketball title

ANAHEIM — As good as the Sierra Canyon girls basketball team has been the last two years, there was one thing the Trailblazers hadn’t yet accomplished: winning a CIF Southern Section title.

Top-seeded Sierra Canyon did that, holding off No. 2 Etiwanda 70-57 at Honda Center to capture the CIF-SS Open Division title for the first time in school history.

It is the first CIF-SS title for the program since 2013.

Sierra Canyon Juju Watkins, center, and center Emilia Krstevski celebrate winning the CIF-SS Open Division Championship basketball game against Etiwanda in Anaheim on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Sierra Canyon Juju Watkins, right, and Etiwanda forward Mykelle Richards scramble for a loose ball in the CIF-SS Open Division Championship basketball game in Anaheim on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Etiwanda guard Sa’lah Hemingway, left, tries to get a shot over Sierra Canyon center Emilia Krstevski, left, in the CIF-SS Open Division Championship basketball game in Anaheim on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Sierra Canyon Juju Watkins, right, Carolina Yerke, left, and other team members celebrate after winning the CIF-SS Open Division Championship basketball game against Etiwanda in Anaheim on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Etiwanda forward Mykelle Richards, right, tries to regain control of the ball as Sierra Canyon Juju Watkins moves in in the CIF-SS Open Division Championship basketball game in Anaheim on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Etiwanda forward Kennedy Smith, center, looks to pass the ball away with pressure from Sierra Canyon Juju Watkins, left, and Leia Edwards, right, in the CIF-SS Open Division Championship basketball game in Anaheim on Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

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“It’s not so much the significance that it was Etiwanda. I don’t have a rivalry with Etiwanda. The significance for me personally is that I was 0-2 in this game,” Sierra Canyon coach Alicia Komaki said. “Win a CIF Open Division title was on my checklist of things to do. I was really hungry to get that done with this group.”

Etiwanda (29-3) defeated Sierra Canyon (30-0) in last year’s CIF-SS championship game. Sierra Canyon went on to win the CIF State Open DIvision title and has won 34 straight games since.

Sierra Canyon entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country, while Etiwanda was ranked eighth by ESPN. The game snapped a streak of eight straight victories by at least 25 points for SIerra Canyon.

“I thought it was extremely physical, which is what we expected,” Komaki said. “More than anything, I’m proud of the growth we’ve shown in our composure, being able to handle physical games. We’re a very different team than we were a year ago.”

Sierra Canyon star  Juju Watkins led all scorers with 24 points, while tying for a team-high 11 rebounds. She made just 4 of 16 field goals, but went 16-for-18 from the line.

“It feels great (to win), especially with this team,” the USC-bound Watkins said. “The history we have, we didn’t get to get it last year. For us to get it and still remain undefeated, it’s nice.”

Izela Arenas added 19 points, while Mackenly Randolph had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Sierra Canyon.

Sierra Canyon never trailed after the first quarter, opened up a 17-point lead in the third quarter, but didn’t put away the Eagles until the final minute.

Etiwanda guard Aliyahna “Puff” Morris made a 3-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer to cut Etiwanda’s deficit to 55-46. The Eagles were within 64-57 on a basket by Kennedy Smith with 1:12 to play, but could not score again.

Smith limped off the court, reaggravating a right knee injury with 3:36 to play in the third quarter, and the Eagles trailing 46-32. She reentered with Etiwanda down 58-46 with 4:51 to play but still had a rough game.

She finished with 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting, while Morris led the way for Etiwanda with 17 points, Majesty Cade had 13 points and Sa’lah Hemingway added nine points and 15 rebounds.

“I thought our girls played hard all the way through, all 32 minutes,” Etiwanda coach Stan Delus said. “We struggled a little bit on the defensive rebounding end. We let them get out in transition for too many possessions. But I thought we fought.

“We didn’t capitalize on our layups. All in all, their length bothered us. I think we’ll do a better job of getting their shot blockers out of position a little bit more next game. I think we’ll see them again.”

Sierra Canyon is expected to be seeded No. 1 and Etiwanda No. 3 (behind La Jolla Country Day) in the CIF State Open Division SoCal Regional.

Etiwanda struggled overall from the field, making just 17 of 67 field goals (25.4 percent) and had several players get into foul trouble, although neither Smith nor Watkins got into foul trouble like they did in the two matchups last year.

Saturday, Mykelle Richards fouled out, while Hemingway had four fouls as the Eagles were whistled for 21 fouls.

While both teams struggled from the floor, both excelled at the free-throw line. Etiwanda made 15 of 17 free throws Saturday, while the Trailblazers made 29 of 32

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Last year in the CIF-SS Open Division final, top-seeded Etiwanda hosted second-seeded Sierra Canyon and won 69-57 for the first CIF-SS title in program history.

The Trailblazers, seeded third in SoCal in the CIF State Open Division, won at second-seeded La Jolla Country Day 63-62 to earn a rematch with Etiwanda, again on the road.

That time, Sierra Canyon won 60-51 to advance to the state championship game where the Trailblazers defeated Archbishop Mitty 72-63.

Foul trouble for the teams’ two star players in last year’s matchups was critical in the outcome. In the CIF-SS final, Watkins scored 24 points, but fouled out with 3:28 left when the Eagles trailed by three points. Etiwanda completed a comeback from a second-half 14-point deficit, taking the lead for good after Watkins fouled out.

In the rematch in the regional, Smith didn’t foul out for Etiwanda, but was charged with her second, third and fourth fouls in the first three minutes of the third quarter. She had to leave the game and finished with just 10 points as Sierra Canyon pulled away in the second half.

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