Etiwanda was facing a juggernaut used to being in position to compete for a state title in Saturday’s CIF Southern California Open Division final at Citizen’s Bank Arena in Ontario, but it was not intimidated and was within striking distance to perhaps pull off a second consecutive upset.
It wasn’t to be. Etiwanda was held scoreless in the final 2:19 of the game as Poly advances to its sixth state title game with a 56-46 triumph.
The Jackrabbits (26-3) scored the last nine points of the game after leading 47-46 with 2:39 remaining following two made free throws by Etiwanda’s Daeja Smith.
“I think the deciding factor was our lack of offensive rebounding,” Etiwanda coach Anders Anderson said. “In order to cut that four- to six-point deficit, we had to reduce their offensive possessions.”
Poly had a 37-29 rebounding advantage, including 13-7 on the offensive boards. No one player had double-digit rebounds for the Jackrabbits, but rather it was a complete team effort by a team that is just beginning to jell. When Poly got its transfers eligible in January, including Lajahna Drummer, other veterans on the team were nursing injuries.
In recent weeks, however, the Jackrabbits have finally hit their stride and it was manifested when they routed Mater Dei of Santa Ana 64-46 in the regional semifinals to avenge an earlier defeat.
“It wasn’t until the end of the season that we really learned how to play together and jelled,” said Poly coach Carl Buggs, whose coached five CIF state title-winning teams, all in Division I. “We really haven’t had the complete squad healthy until the later part of the season.”
Drummer, a transfer from St. Bernard of Playa del Rey, led Poly with 16 points and eight assists. The floor generalship of Louisville-bound Arica Carter was also key. She nailed a straight away 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give Poly a 28-24 lead. With Poly holding on to a 50-46 lead, she also nailed a dagger 3-pointer from the corner with 1:46 remaining. Carter finished with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals and will battle future college teammate Mariya Moore from Salesian of Richmond for the open division state title next Saturday night in Sacramento.
“I feel like I have to step up and make the right decisions for my team,” Carter said. “I know I can hit the big shot and I want the ball.
“Mariya is a great player player. She’s smart, can handle and hit the 3-pointer.”
Poly’s six regional titles have all come since 2006, including five in a row between 2006 and 2010 and last year when the Lady Jackrabbits routed Canyon Springs of Moreno Valley en route to the program’s fifth overall state title. The 2010-11 season is the only one since 2006 in which Buggs’ program hasn’t appeared in a regional final. Buggs said capturing a first in the open division format is special.
“The open is supposed to be the best teams around, so that adds more to it,” he said.
In contrast, Etiwanda (22-7) was making its first appearance in a regional final after upsetting state No. 1 Windward 49-48 in its regional semifinal.