They had a window now, opening the glass just a bit, fighting back because these Etiwanda Eagles would never give up no matter how hard the titan in front of them struck.
Down by five to San Jose’s Archbishop Mitty with two minutes remaining in Saturday’s Open Division state final at the Golden 1 Center, coach Stan Delus quietly sat his players out in a timeout. He pointed to each of them, and with his voice steadily rising to a crescendo, he delivered the message that will go down in the history of the Etiwanda program.
“Change your mind…that’s all you have to do right now at this point,” Delus roared. “So step up now and play the moment.”
For three years, the junior Kennedy Smith had been playing the moment. And as the minutes ticked by and Etiwanda fought back, tying the game at 67 with a handful of seconds remaining, possession and a state championship shot, it seemed only right that the ball would be in Smith’s hands for his shot at another time.
She dribbled from the baseline, firing a long jumper from midrange, the ball hitting the backboard and spinning around the rim once. Twice. Falling, heartbreakingly, out of iron. And to the waiting arms of junior Jada Sanders, who scored on the throwback at the buzzer and chaos ensued in a 69-67 victory.
Her teammates harassed her at half court, melting into a pool of disbelief, spilling out like the gallons of emotion the Eagles have expended on a miracle season.
Jada Sanders scores for Etiwanda at the buzzer to lead Etiwanda to a 69-67 victory over Archbishop Mitty for the girls’ Open Division state title.
“He came up, I said, ‘Wow,’” Delus said, simulating his eyes widened at the tray, the Eagles laughed at the postgame news conference.
They beat La Jolla Country Day in the regional semifinal. Somehow they defeated Sierra Canyon, the familiar foe who defeated them in the Southern Section finals, in the regional final. And they bested Archbishop Mitty, three massive victories against three of the best private school programs in America for a program that will always see itself as a public school representing the Inland Empire.
“We heard that there was some disappointment in playing us instead of Sierra Canyon. Hey, they wanted to go back to last year, I get it,” Delus said of Archbishop Mitty’s loss to the Trailblazers last year in the state final. “But I have to make sure that people understand, we’re not just this school… for some strange reason, they still see us as good, but are we? that good? Can we be that good?
“We can,” Delus continued. “Actually we can.”
Sanders walked away as the hero, but Smith was the engine from end to end, putting up a stat line that spoke for itself but couldn’t speak for the sweat it left on the court: 30 points, 13 boards, six steals, four blocks. .
Three years ago, in the summer of Smith’s freshman year, she walked into a practice against Etiwanda’s 6-foot-4 post monster Jessica Peterson. And Delus will never forget how Peterson, now a center at Southern Methodist University, attacked her. He challenged her.
So Smith, Delus described in the fall, waving his arms to show it, came right back. He caught the ball. Elbow. Cube in the post. She was there to play as an equal.
“She never took anything back, Kennedy Smith,” Delus said earlier this season. “I know they say that Juju (Watkins) is a transcendent player,” he added, referring to the Sierra Canyon star, “but Kennedy is that glue.”
Every time Smith steps on the ground, she moves as if she’s already been wronged. As if the best player in the opposite jersey had stolen something from him. It could be Mater Dei’s Addie Deal; could be Watkins. Never mind Smith, Delus said, he specifically asks to protect the other team’s best player in each game.
And late in the first quarter on Saturday, after he sent down a Mitty layup with a snap from a two-handed block, Mitty’s star freshman Mckenna Woliczko turned into his Peterson for the final 2.8 seconds of the quarter. period.
As Peterson caught an approach, Smith entrenched in his stance and invaded his airspace, completely cutting off any driving access. And when Peterson tried to break through, Smith deflected the dribble and dove on the fumble, coming off screaming as Etiwanda held on to a narrow first-quarter lead.
After a flat second quarter and a four-point halftime deficit, the Eagles came out with their usual ferocity in the third quarter, swarming as Smith teleported to the passing lanes and scored seven straight Etiwanda points on just layups. But Mitty’s suave junior Morgan Cheli responded with her own variety of endings, holding a one-point lead over the Monarchs for three quarters.
Fouls and injuries slowed down the fourth quarter, Cheli limping off the floor only to return with just minutes to go to raucous applause. But these Eagles have waded into the mud all season, picking up the pace at their discretion, executing down the stretch. And as they held up the state championship trophy, familiar chants came from the loyal bosses behind the bench.