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Sage Hill girls’ basketball ready for another run with the best

The Sage Hill girls' basketball team will begin the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs Saturday.
The Sage Hill girls’ basketball team, seen in the Troy Classic on Dec. 8, will begin the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs at Mater Dei on Saturday.
(James Carbone)
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The Sage Hill girls’ basketball team had done its part, or so it thought, producing a resume that had set it up for its final playoff appearance with its core group of seniors.

Nothing short of brilliant to close out the regular season, the Lightning rattled off a 14-game winning streak that remains intact heading into the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs.

Sage Hill had risen to No. 4 in recent section polls, moving in front of Mater Dei in three sets of rankings beginning with the Jan. 16 release, which would have given the Lightning two home playoff games in the eight-team, pool-play format.

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When the rankings came out on Sunday afternoon, however, Sage Hill (24-2) appeared in the bracket with the No. 5 seed next to its name, scheduled to open on the road Saturday against Mater Dei (23-5), seeded fourth.

“We scheduled hard, played solid teams and thought that our body of work warranted us playing two home games,” Sage Hill coach Kerwin Walters said. “We respect Mater Dei and are looking forward to a great matchup.”

Sage Hill will now go on the road twice in pool play, scheduled to travel against the two teams it lost to this season. That includes a Valentine’s Day date with top-seeded Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (27-1).

Sage Hill fell to Mater Dei 74-64 on Friday in a showdown between the top two girls’ basketball teams in Orange County, but the Lightning are ranked among the top teams in the state.

Dec. 12, 2023

This postseason will mark the final games in the prep careers of Emily Eadie, Kat Righeimer, Annabelle Spotts and Zoie Lamkin, a core four that stepped in and made an immediate and indelible impact after being brought up under the tutelage of the late Kobe Bryant. They led Sage Hill, along with veteran guard Isabel Gomez, to its first section title as freshmen and then a state title the next year.

Sophomore Amalia Holguin, a dynamic guard, was the last of Bryant’s pupils to reach high school last year, when the Lightning first qualified for the Open Division.

They have done so while carrying the heavy hearts of having lost coaches, teammates and friends in the helicopter crash that killed Bryant and eight others, fracturing their Mamba Sports Academy family.

Walters addressed their fight through adversity after Sage Hill beat host Portola 84-49 to clinch the Pacific Coast League title on Jan. 26, four years to the day since the tragic incident occurred.

“The one thing I tell these girls is that this is something that happened to you that the entire world knows about,” Walters said. “Things happen to everyone every single day. It’s never publicized globally. They’ve always conducted themselves well. I think they’ve gotten better and better about dealing with the situation, and they persevere.”

Eadie had 12 points and 13 rebounds in the league-clinching win over the Bulldogs. Holguin paced the Lightning with 21 points, trading baskets with electric Portola guard Kira Watanabe, who led all scorers with 29 points on the strength of eight three-pointers.

“We knew that today was going to be extra hard, but [we wanted] to come out here and finish the job and just rely on each other,” Eadie said. “I feel like we had really good team ball, great shooting. Everyone had a great game.”

Spotts scored 17 points in the contest, Lamkin had 11 points, and Righeimer spread the ball around with eight assists to go with her nine rebounds.

The Lightning asserted their dominance with an average margin of victory of 40.7 points in Pacific Coast League contests, which included two games against Portola, ranked No. 40 in the state by MaxPreps.com.

“Only two times out of the year I’m not rooting for them,” Portola coach Brian Barham said of this Sage Hill team. “I’m always hoping that they have the best high school memories possible. … The way that the story should end is them winning it, and we’re hoping that they do it.”

Sage Hill has several college commits, including Eadie (Princeton), Spotts (University of Chicago) and Righeimer (Northwestern). Before that next chapter begins, Holguin spoke to the group’s unfinished business after wrapping up the league title.

“I think last year was more of a trial, to get a taste of it,” Holguin said. “I feel like we did pretty well, but this time, it’s like go time. It’s the real time to go. It’s like game time, and we can really compete. I think we can compete with all the teams in the Open Division and could win.”

The girls’ basketball playoffs begin this week. Below is a list of playoff openers for local teams:

Open Division

Feb. 10 — Sage Hill (24-2) at No. 4 Mater Dei (23-5), 7 p.m.

Division 2A

Feb. 8 — Pacifica Christian (19-8) at San Pedro Rolling Hills Prep (16-8), 7 p.m.

Feb. 8 — Corona del Mar (13-14) at Chino (19-3), 7 p.m.

Division 3AA

Feb. 8 — Fountain Valley (16-12) at Montebello Cantwell Sacred Heart (17-11), 7 p.m.

Division 3A

Feb. 8 — Huntington Beach (16-12) at Segerstrom (22-6), 7 p.m.

Division 4AA

Feb. 8 — Norwalk (13-15) at Marina (20-8), 5:30 p.m.

Division 5AA

Feb. 8 — Estancia (18-10) at Ojai Thacher (11-6), 7 p.m.

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