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Etiwanda girls topple No. 1 Sierra Canyon for Open Division regional basketball title

The roles were reversed in the Southern California Regional Open Division girls’ basketball 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 0.9 on the clock. 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 from well beyond the time line but she couldn’t get off off before the buzzer sounded.

Watkins, who finished with 16 points, rebounded a missed free throw by Morris and drove the length of the floor for a layup to tie the score 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 own those [free throws] all the time, so I’m surprised when the first one didn’t go in the first time,” Morris said. “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.

Sierra Canyon’s Crystal Wang tries to split two Etiwanda defenders on a drive down the lane Tuesday night.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

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.

“We work on our free throws a lot,” Delus said. “I told Aliyahna you’ve been with me for two years, you’re a soldier and you know how to fight. Now fight through the moment and you’ll be fine.”

The teams’ first meeting was a free-throw fest as the two sides combined to make 44 of 49 attempts. The rematch was played at a blistering pace as it took only 12 minutes to play the first quarter and less than 30 minutes of real time to complete the first half.

Etiwanda will play San Jose Archbishop Mitty (28-2) for the state title at 6 p.m. Saturday at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

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