Girls' basketball roundup: Etiwanda dominates to win state Open Division title again

It was 16 minutes of the most beautiful, smothering defense to begin a state championship game that you could have imagined.

Unbeaten San José Archbishop Mitty, which had been battering Northern California teams, fell behind by 16 points at halftime to Southern California champion Etiwanda, making just six of 29 shots. Every shot was contested. Every rebound was fought for. Every loose ball was a scramble. Etiwanda broke out a 3-2 matchup zone defense that the Monarchs couldn’t figure out. It was prepared three weeks ago.

“I always have something up my sleeve,” Etiwanda coach Stan Delus said.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s All-American Kennedy Smith was attacking the basket.

Mitty coach Sue Phillips twice called timeouts trying to change momentum. It never happened. Etiwanda, which won last year’s Open Division final on a buzzer-beater over Mitty, handed the Monarchs their first defeat in 31 games with a 60-48 victory Saturday night in the rematch at Golden 1 Center, the Eagles securing bragging rights as not only the best team in California but perhaps the nation too.

Delus found a way to beat powerhouse Sierra Canyon twice to be Southern Section Open Division champion and Southern California regional champion. Those games prepared his team for Mitty, which has been hardly challenged for months. Trying to suddenly raise your game when the opponent has been facing tougher opponents is not easy. At one point in the third quarter, Etiwanda led 42-18.

Delus made sure Etiwanda kept up the pressure. At the end of the third quarter, standing in the huddle with his team ahead 50-29, he shouted, “Eight minutes to play basketball!”

Mitty finally found a response to start the fourth quarter, going on a 10-0 run to close to 50-39 with 4:39 left. Smith ended the run with a layup, then Grace Knox scored. Order was restored. A championship wasn’t going to be lost on this night after playing so well for three quarters.

Smith, in her final game for the Eagles before she heads to USC, had 15 points, five rebounds and three blocks, once again demonstrating her versatility. Junior point guard Aliyahna Morris was brilliant all night, finishing with 20 points and five assists. Mykelle Richards made two threes in the third quarter and finished with 11 points. Knox contributed 11 rebounds and eight points.

“We came out and executed the plan,” Smith said.

Mitty finished one for 13 from three-point range and was 18 for 56 from the field (32.1%).

“Nobody up here is happy about a runner-up trophy,” Phillips said. “It was an incredibly disappointing first half.”

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