The Mercury News

Heartbreak­er: Mitty girls fall at the buzzer

- By Darren Sabedra dsabedra@bayareanew­

SACRAMENTO >> Nobody will deny the greatness of the Archbishop Mitty girls basketball program.

Under legendary coach Sue Phillips, the San Jose school has achieved just about everything there is to attain in the sport.

The one trophy missing from Mitty's case, the one championsh­ip that has somehow eluded the program for the past decade, was there for the taking in the fourth quarter Saturday night at Golden 1 Center. And Mitty went for it.

But the Monarchs were unable to protect a late lead and Etiwanda's Jada Sanders put back a missed jump shot at the buzzer to lift the Southern California school to a 69-67 victory in the Open Division state final.

The ending was bitterly cruel for Mitty, given that the jumper from Etiwanda junior forward Kennedy Smith from just inside the 3-point line hit off the backboard and made two complete spins around the rim before falling out.

Sanders, a 5-foot-11 junior who had zero rebounds to that point, grabbed the ball as it came down and immediatel­y went back up with the shot.

It went in.

And when it did, Etiwanda had captured its first state championsh­ip at any level while Mitty suffered maybe the most shocking of its three Open title game defeats since the California Interschol­astic Federation added the best-of-the best category in 2013.

Shocking not because Mitty was the favorite. It was not. But shocking because of how jaw-dropping the ending turned out to be and that the San Jose school finished with a 44-31 advantage in rebounds.

“Basketball's a funny game that way,” said Phillips, in her 30th season at Mitty. “I have seen a lot of games end in ways that are heartbreak­ing. What's heartbreak­ing to me is I don't get to coach these seniors. I can live with losses.

“I am disappoint­ed because I think it was within our grasp. But there's only one heartbreak­ing thing to this and that's saying goodbye to these guys.”

Mitty (28-3) led by seven points with 2½ minutes to go, a cushion that seemed safe enough, but Etiwanda (32-3) did what it has done many times against elite competitio­n:

It kept fighting.

The Inland Empire team that dethroned defending Open Division state champion Sierra Canyon in the Southern California regional final on Tuesday cut the deficit to 64-59 on a basket by Sanders, her first two points of the game.

Smith, who led Etiwanda with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six steals, then scored to make it 6461. Arynn Finley's three-point play -- basket, foul, free throw -- tied the game 64-64 with 1:25 left.

“Tonight's game, wow,” Etiwanda coach Stan Delus said. “Just the resiliency of our girls, to fight. But that's been them all year. Unbelievab­le. Just two teams that battled for all 32 minutes. It was just whoever wanted it at the end. We prevailed, and it's a testament to all the hard work these girls have put in for the last 8½ months.”

Mitty star Morgan Cheli, who rolled an ankle with 4:18 left, returned less than two minutes later and gave her team its final lead, 67-65, when she sank a pair of free throws with 58.5 seconds on the clock.

Etiwanda evened the score on two foul shots by Aliyahna Morris with 41.8 seconds left and got a turnover — the last of 21 for Mitty in the game — to set up the climactic finish.

Mitty played strong defense, Etiwanda missed a shot and both teams scrambled for the rebound near the free-throw line.

The officials ruled a jump ball, the possession arrow favoring Etiwanda.

With 19.4 seconds left, the Southern California school inbounded the ball to Smith, who then passed to Morris.

The 5-5 sophomore point guard, who scored 14 points, worked the clock from the top of the arc before giving the ball back to Smith on the right wing.

The 6-1 junior, who was at Golden 1 last season when her brother won the Division I state championsh­ip for Damien-La Verne, went around a screen and took the shot.

Somehow, it didn't go in, to the disbelief of her coach.

“Honestly, I was like, I can't believe this ball is about to come out,” Delus said. “Jada just came out of nowhere. She just went and got it and I said, `She got the rebound.' Then it went up and I said, `Wow.' “I was in shock.” Sanders, who was under the basket, said she watched the ball spin around the rim the entire time.

“I was like, `Get it,' and I put it up,” she said.

Cheli had 24 points, six rebounds five assists and four steals and freshman McKenna Woliczko finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead Mitty.

A year ago, the Monarchs were no match for Sierra Canyon in the state final, losing 85-61. Six years ago in the Open final, Mitty went ice cold after halftime and lost to Clovis West 44-40.

Just as they were against Clovis West, the Monarchs were so close to the championsh­ip they practicall­y left fingerprin­ts on the trophy.

“I'm upset, obviously,” said Cheli, a junior who missed much of the regular season with a foot injury. “I think we all are. We were determined to come out and win. So to fall short is not the best feeling. Etiwanda played great. For the people returning, we want to come back.”

 ?? JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Archbishop Mitty's Morgan Cheli, left, consoles teammate Maya Hernandez after losing to Etiwanda in Saturday's championsh­ip game.
JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Archbishop Mitty's Morgan Cheli, left, consoles teammate Maya Hernandez after losing to Etiwanda in Saturday's championsh­ip game.

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