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Electrifying comeback gives Sage Hill girls’ basketball first CIF title

Sage Hill celebrates a 62-55 win over Ontario Christian in the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA girls' basketball final.
The Sage Hill girls’ basketball team celebrates a 62-55 win over Ontario Christian in the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA girls’ basketball final on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Sage Hill School girls’ basketball team had suffered heartache on the court, and more than that off it.

In the previous five seasons, the Lightning had earned one playoff win in four of them, but that was as far as Sage Hill would go.

Sage Hill graduated from contenders to champions with a second-half comeback to beat top-seeded Ontario Christian 62-55 on Friday night in the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA final at home.

The Lightning, who had several players arrive this season who played for the Mamba Sports Academy team once coached by the late Kobe Bryant, played a role so often embodied by their mentor on the court – that of the closer.

Sage Hill's head coach Kerwin Walters cuts down the net following a 62-55 win over Ontario Christian.
Sage Hill’s head coach Kerwin Walters cuts down the net following a 62-55 win over Ontario Christian in the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA girls’ basketball final on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Freshman guard Zoie Lamkin drained a three-pointer with 1:12 remaining that put Sage Hill in front for good at 57-55. It came off a swing pass from Kat Righeimer, who had four points, six rebounds and four assists.

“We thought we were about to lose, but we had that Mamba Mentality to keep going and push through to the end,” Lamkin said.

Lamkin, who finished with eight points, had a quiet game offensively up to that point, but the Lightning collectively looked to that shot as the moment that changed the game.

“We felt the momentum switch back to our side,” junior point guard Isabel Gomez said. “After that went in, we knew we could finally close it out. We knew that we had the push and the spark to do it.”

Sage Hill's Emily Eadie, left, Emily Elliott, center and Isabel Gomez, right, celebrate as the clock runs out.
Sage Hill’s Emily Eadie, left, Emily Elliott, center and Isabel Gomez, right, celebrate as the clock runs out during the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA girls’ basketball final against Ontario Christian on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Sage Hill, which led 16-15 at the end of the first quarter, did not lead again until Emily Elliott sunk a pair of free throws with 4:50 left to give the Lightning a 50-49 lead. Ontario Christian (22-2) led by as much as nine points in the second half.

Gomez finished with a team-high 21 points to go with five assists and five rebounds for No. 2-seeded Sage Hill (18-6). Elliott added 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals, and Emily Eadie provided 13 points and 15 rebounds.

For Elliott, who graduated on Friday, June 4, it was all worth it to keep going with the team. The senior forward has signed with Cal State Los Angeles for women’s volleyball. She is used to soaring above the net in that respect, but she found herself and her teammates cutting one down after bringing the program its first championship.

“It was incredible,” Elliott said. “I never thought I would see myself doing that one day, but here we are.”

Sage Hill's assistant coaches Chris Lew, left, and Elijah Gaines dump water on head coach Kerwin Walters and Isabel Gomez.
Sage Hill’s assistant coaches Chris Lew, left, and Elijah Gaines dump water on head coach Kerwin Walters and Isabel Gomez after the team beat Ontario Christian in the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA girls’ basketball final on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Eadie had eight points and eight rebounds in the first half, critical contributions from the freshman forward as the Lightning attempted to stay within striking distance.

Sage Hill was contending with a lights-out shooter in Ontario Christian’s Chloe Briggs, who had 34 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals.

“I knew it was going to be a close game,” Briggs said. “They’re a really good team. They have a lot of solid girls. I was hoping to come out with a win. I thought we could do it, but at the end, we just fell short.”

The Lightning turned to a double team against Briggs, who had six three-pointers, to try to get some defensive stops. Madeline Martinez also had 12 points for the Knights, with all of those coming from beyond the arc.

Sage Hill's Emily Eadie, battles Ontario Christian's Brooklyn Goedhart, left, and Riley De Groot.
Sage Hill’s Emily Eadie, battles Ontario Christian’s Brooklyn Goedhart, left, and Riley De Groot during the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA girls’ basketball final on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“She is phenomenal,” Gomez said of Briggs. “We knew that in order to try to get something going, we had to have a couple of empty possessions, and we got those.”

Four players on the Sage Hill roster – Annabelle Spotts, Eadie, Lamkin and Righeimer – were teammates on the Mamba travel ball team that endured tragedy when a helicopter crash took the lives of Bryant and eight others.

Also lost in the accident were Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, Sarah and Payton Chester, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa, Edison alumnus Christina Mauser, and the pilot, Ara Zobayan.

Sage Hill coach Kerwin Walters said it had been a tough 18 months going back to the Jan. 26 incident, and he said he felt in his heart that those the community had lost over that period were looking down on them.

Sage Hill's Isabel Gomez takes a shot against Ontario Christian's Riley De Groot.
Sage Hill’s Isabel Gomez takes a shot against Ontario Christian’s Riley De Groot during the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA girls’ basketball final on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“It’s not a healing method, but it’s a step towards healing,” Walters said of winning the title. “I think it’s a step towards our community staying tight and starting to recover from all this madness over the last 18 months.

“To be honest, I’m so happy to be with this group. I think this group has given me some serenity in all of the craziness that has happened over the last 18 months.”

CIF Southern Section Division 3AA Final

Sage Hill 62, Ontario Christian 55

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Ontario Christian 15 - 15 - 17 - 8 – 55

Sage Hill 16 - 10 - 15 - 21 – 62

OC – C. Briggs 34, Martinez 12, Mouw 3, K. Goedhart 2, De Groot 2, B. Goedhart 2.

3-pt. goals – C. Briggs 6, Martinez 4, Mouw 1.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

SH – Gomez 21, Elliott 16, Eadie 13, Lamkin 8, Righeimer 4.

3-pt. goals – Gomez 5, Lamkin 2.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – Team.

Sage Hill's Zoie Lamkin battles for a loose ball against Ontario Christian's Chloe Briggs.
Sage Hill’s Zoie Lamkin battles for a loose ball against Ontario Christian’s Chloe Briggs during the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA girls’ basketball final on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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