SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The four game winning streak by Northern California girls teams came to an end after Southern Regional No. 6 seed Sage Hill-Newport Beach took charge down the stretch to win the state CIF Division II championship with a 51-47 victory over San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno on Saturday at the Golden 1 Center. Sage Hill was making its first-ever state championship appearance
Sage Hill (27-10) trailed for 31 of the game’s 32 minutes and took its first lead with a minute left on a basket by sophomore Emily Eadie. The lead change came as part of a 9-2 run in the final two minutes of the game that wiped out 45-42 deficit.
San Joaquin Memorial re-took the lead at 47-46 on a basket by junior Malaysia Williams with 41.1 seconds left, but Eadie answered right back with 29.2 seconds left to give the Orange County girls a 48-47 lead they never relinquished. After failing to convert on the ensuing possession all San Joaquin Memorial could do was foul and senior Isabel Gomez made a pair of free throws and sophomore Kat Righeimer made one of two from the charity stripe to close out the scoring.
“Our defense is extremely good, and when we play like that there’s not a team in the world we can’t compete with,” said Sage Hill head coach Kerwin Walters. “They all showed that today. Everyone stepped in big and the energy we came with, especially in the second half was unbelievable.”
Although Sage Hill did not beat any of the state-ranked teams they played that made the Open Division for the Regional Playoffs, playing CIF Open Division champion Sierra Canyon, Mater Dei, Centennial, Oak Ridge and Mission Hills helped toughen up the defense of the young Lightning, and it showed against San Joaquin Memorial.
Neither the Sage Hill defense nor the offense showed up early on when the Lightning were down 22-9 late in the first half, but from there they picked it up on both ends of the court. A 7-2 run to end the half and the first two points of the third quarter got it to 22-18 and entering the final period the Lightning were holding their own with only a 36-33 deficit.
San Joaquin Memorial (27-7) got it to 41-35, and had several chances but couldn’t convert and a 7-1 Sage Hill run tied it at 42-42 with 3:18 left. A three-pointer by San Joaquin memorial reserve Haley Duvall gave the Panthers back the lead at 45-42 but from the Eadie and crew closed it out.
After a poor first half, Gomez showed her senior leadership and was a big part of stabilizing the Lightning on both ends of the court. She hit two three-pointers in the third quarter, including an off-balance one from NBA range that tied it at 33-33 with the shot clock about to expire. When asked if she knew where she was when she launched Gomez sheepishly responded “I saw the shot clock” to a roar of laughter from her teammates. As to her helping stabilize things Gomez had this to say.
“I just decided to be a little more aggressive than I had been in the first half,” Gomez remarked. “We’re a mentally tough team and I don’t know if it helped the team but I became more mentally tough.”
Gomez led Sage Hill with 14 points and 11 rebounds, with 12 points and five rebounds coming in the second half. Eadie also had a double-double, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Righeimer also hit double-figure scoring with 11 points.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted. We fought but we came up short,” said new San Joaquin Memorial head coach Verenique Warren. She took over after the first of the year when former head coach Jackie White stepped down.
San Joaquin Memorial played 10 girls and seven scored, but only junior Meadow Roland was in double-figure scoring with 10 points. Alexis Swillis, 6-2 freshman, at time showed why some girls basketball analysts feel she is going to develop into a solid post player. Swillis finished with six points and a game-high 13 rebounds.