There was the victory over Corona Santiago in December, the epic semifinal over the No. 1 team in the country and the quarterfinal win over nemesis Long Beach Poly. The Etiwanda girls basketball team would have likely traded it all for a win Friday night.
But the Eagles lost a rematch with Santiago in the CIF-SS Division 1AA title game, 70-65, at the Anaheim Arena.
Amy Okonkwo, the hero of Etiwanda’s overtime win on Wednesday over a Mater Dei team ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps.com, followed her 27-point performance with 19 points and 15 rebounds for the fifth-seeded Eagles. But Crishae Rowe of third-seeded Santiago was up to the challenge with 25 points to lead the Sharks (29-2).
“My biggest fear was that the girls would consider their goal achieved after beating Poly and Mater Dei,” Etiwanda coach Anders Anderson said. “But they way they came out in the second half and the way they fought until the end demonstrated that they came to play tonight.”
Etiwanda (28-3) trailed by eight with 1:09 remaining in the game, but battled back to make it a one-possession game. The Eagles took advantage of two missed free throws by Santiago, then forced a turnover to take possession down 68-65 with less than 15 seconds to play. A missed a 3-pointer on their final possession was the last gasp before a pair of Santiago free throws with 2.3 seconds left sealed the victory.
“I thought we were going to pull it out,” Anderson said. “We thought it was within reach the whole time. We just needed one more basketball play but it didn’t happen for us tonight.”
Etiwanda opened the second half with a 14-point run finished off by seven of McKynzie Fort’s 15 points to take a 40-32 lead over Santiago.
But the Sharks continued the wild momentum swings with a 14-2 run to tie the game on consecutive baskets by hot-shooting Shiana Carrington, who complimented Rowe nicely with 20 points on 8 of 15 shooting from the field.
Etiwanda answered to take a 49-46 lead with with 6:50 to play, but it was the ensuing 14-3 run that staked Santiago to a 61-52 advantage with 4:42 to play, a lead that proved too much to overcome.
Nearly three months ago, Etiwanda defeated Santiago by 10 in the finals of the Inland Valley Classic Tournament. But Santiago received the higher seed in the playoffs, landing Etiwanda in the same half of the bracket at No. 4 seed Long Beach Poly and No. 1 seed Mater Dei.
Etiwanda braved both basketball powers, defeating Long Beach Poly by 10 in the semifinals and besting Mater Dei in a win that stood as the biggest in school history entering the CIF championship game.
The Eagles may run into some of those same foes in the CIF State tournament that begins Wednesday.
“You could tell by all the girls crying their eyes out in that locker room how much they care,” Anderson said. “I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of ladies on this team that I like as much as I do. We did preseason, tournaments, league and the playoffs. Now we’re ready to start our fifth season at state.”