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Etiwanda advances to CIFSS Open Division finals, denies Mater Dei three-peat bid with 64-53 victory: 3 takeaways

Kennedy Smith, Puff Morris, and Majesty Cade combined for 46 points for Etiwanda.

RANCHO CUCAMONGA– Saturday night was another night at the office for Etiwanda, the unbeaten top-ranked team in the state, defeating Mater Dei 64-53 in the third game of the Southern Section Open Division playoffs to advance to the finals.

As both teams were 2-0 in Open Division pool play, the match was a de facto Southern Section semifinal, and the Eagles' win officially dethroned the two-time reigning Open Division champion. Here are three takeaways from the game:


It took less than 90 seconds for Etiwanda to set the tone in this one, jumping out to a momentous 8-0 lead in just over a minute. The Monarchs quickly answered with a three-point play by Lani White and pull-up three by Caia Elisaldez, or else the game could've gotten away from them quite quickly.

The Eagles didn't need any time at the start to adjust to the speed of Mater Dei's patented full-court press. When Mater Dei would drop into a zone in the half-court, Etiwanda methodically snapped the ball around the perimeter, into the high post, and then to the baseline cutter to get high-percentage looks in the paint.

Etiwanda led 17-11 after one quarter, and once it opened up a double-digit lead halfway through the second quarter, the Monarchs never got within striking distance again. The Eagles made it look easy on both ends for much of the first half against a juggernaut that always plays its best ball in the playoffs, and it was not for a lack of energy or execution by Mater Dei. Etiwanda held the Monarchs to 53 points despite one of the better scoring displays of Utah signee Lani White's career, in which she hit tough shot after tough shot and did a good job getting to the line.

The Eagles took their largest lead of the game so far into halftime up 36-20, and their lead in the second half generally hovered between 17 and 20 points before Mater Dei garnered some momentum. As soon as the Eagles lost their sharpness even a slight bit down the stretch, Mater Dei pounced on them. After struggling uncharacteristically to force turnovers in the first half, the Monarchs made the Eagles struggle uncharacteristically to simply get into their sets without turning it over, and Mater Dei eventually cut the lead to 10 points before ultimately losing by 11. By continuing to trap aggressively and gradually calibrating to Etiwanda's physicality, Mater Dei was able to disrupt its foe's tempo by getting to the line and getting some key Eagles into foul trouble. Destiny Agubata would foul out with nearly half the fourth quarter remaining.

By crunch-time, the Eagles were missing their three leading scorers. They've been playing without senior captain and St. Mary's signee Daisia Mitchell since she dislocated her knee in mid-January, but sophomore Kennedy Smith, their leading scorer and rebounder, went out with an injury late in the third quarter. She missed most of the second half after racking up a team-high 17 points to go with six rebounds and three assists in under three quarters. By the time Agubata fouled out, the Eagles were missing three starters, and could've been in some trouble if the game had another quarter in it. While one could wonder if the win might've been even more momentous for the Eagles if it had never gotten testy down the stretch, it never got too uncomfortably close either because they did their damage early.

Even when Etiwanda's offensive stuttered late, its defense remained firm to keep its lead in the double-digits.

"That's been our staple all year," said Delus. "Keeping everybody in front of you, switching the same matchups, getting into help, getting into passing lanes, and closing out at on the three point line. For the most part we did that, especially in the first half. Many of their points were free throws off fouls. That's definitely something we need to correct going into next weekend."

"We stayed composed, and had some learned lessons, and still won. That's always a bonus to me," said Delus. "You can lose, and learn a lot of lessons, but you're done (in the playoffs). We didn't let that happen."

The Eagles will be in their first section title game in Delus' six seasons at Etiwanda, a program that was already elite when he inherited it and has been on a steady rise ever since.

Aliyahna "Puff" Morris contributed 15 points, six assists, and two blocks for Etiwanda, and Majesty Cade finished with 14 points. Sa'lah Hemingway added six points, six rebounds, and three blocks.


Smith went down in the third quarter on a non-contact play and received treatment on the sideline for most of the rest of the game. There seemed to be widespread concern that the injury could be significant – at least within the context of being one week out from a section title game. But Delus revealed the great news after the game that it was simply a sudden onset of unrelenting cramps in both legs, and said it wasn't something Smith has dealt with before at Etiwanda.

"Before that I think she was getting ready to blow the game [open]," said Delus on Smith's 15 first half points. "Unfortunately we came into some adversity, but I think that's what makes us us. We've never been the smooth type, we've always had to go through something."

And the good news regarding untimely injuries didn't stop there.

"Daisia Mitchell is coming back this week. That's special," said Delus.

While the initial prognosis on Mitchell's injury on Jan. 15 was a three-week absence, it was far from a foregone conclusion that Mitchell would return by any point in the Southern Section playoffs. Jumping right back into a championship game against a world-class team is an unenviable challenge, but fortunately, Mitchell is Etiwanda's most experienced player. In addition to the 6-0 wing's 12 PPG and ability to contribute in nearly any part of the game, Delus has repeatedly described the senior captain as a calming, grounding influence on the otherwise young Eagles.

They'll need everything they can get going up against another one of the best teams in the country, a Sierra Canyon team that's 26-1 and unbeaten against Southern Section competition.


While this loss was disappointing for the three-peat-minded Monarchs, there was no shame in it. Maybe on paper, there's not a lot that's positive to point to when losing a game that was almost never in single-digits. But it was very clear that they played a strong game and made one of the top teams in the country sweat to earn a win over them. Mater Dei isn't quite the alpha right now that it was at this juncture of the last two postseasons, but it gave the undefeated top dog some problems on Saturday during its best stretches.

After the game, head coach Kevin Kiernan acknowledged his team's impressive effort, but he still thinks they have the opportunity to find another gear with the state playoffs looming.

"All year, since winning last year's title, we've known that we were a good team, but that we had to go from good to great," said Kiernan. Mater Dei lost three D-1 players and another productive starter, among others, when its phenomenal 2021 class graduated.

"To win a game against Etiwanda or Sierra Canyon in the Open Division, you have to be great. And we're a damn good team. But we're not a great team, and to win these games you have to be great. We're still shooting for great next week (in regional playoffs)."

"I thought Etiwanda was very physical. We can't simulate that kind of physicality in practice. We knew it was coming," Kiernan said. "Hats off to Etiwanda, they were really physical and they played very well, but I thought we battled all night. We were very good – but you gotta be great."

White finished with a game-high 23 points, and Elisaldez scored 13.



Etiwanda girls basketball
Etiwanda girls basketball
Etiwanda girls basketball
Etiwanda girls basketball