LONG BEACH, CA - March madness was in full effect Saturday night at the Walter Pyramid, as Sierra Canyon survived a tough fight from Etiwanda, 58-55, to secure an Open Division Regional title and a berth in the state championship game in Sacramento.
Sierra Canyon took a 53-47 lead into the final 35 seconds of action. Scottie Pippen Jr. fouled Etiwanda’s best free-throw shooter, Kessler Edwards, in the double bonus and he converted on both attempts. On the next play, Pippen Jr. was fouled and sent to the line, making each shot to extend Sierra Canyon’s lead.
Just when it looked like the game was sealed, however, K.J. Martin fouled out for Sierra Canyon. Edwards was fouled on a three, and made each free throw to make the score 55-52. Pippen Jr. stepped to the line again moments later and went one-for-two, leading to a clutch three-pointer by Krystian Wilson of Etiwanda.
With five seconds left, Duane Washington Jr. had a chance to seal the game for Sierra Canyon at the foul line. He sunk both, and the rest is history.
“This feeling, it’s just amazing,” Martin said. “We locked in on the defensive end, which got us the W.”
Etiwanda blazed out of the gates, playing faster and more athletic than Sierra Canyon. Elijah Harkless got to the rim at will, and the Eagles executed well on defense against Martin’s superior athleticism. Sierra Canyon struggled to gain any rhythm offensively, scoring just nine points in the quarter. Etiwanda took a seven--point advantage into the second quarter, with momentum on their side.
To start the second quarter, Sierra Canyon came out with a vengeance. Terren Frank scored in the paint and Washington Jr. nailed a three to pull the Trailblazers within two, leading to an Etiwanda timeout.
After a huge Sierra Canyon block, Stanley blasted out to the open floor and scored on an acrobatic layup, flipping onto his head in the process. As the crowd gasped, Stanley remained on the floor.
Minutes later, he was helped off the floor by athletic trainers, and Krystian Wilson of Etiwanda was called for a technical foul.
“I didn’t see the fall, but definitely he took a hard hit,” Martin said. “We all came together and said, ‘let’s do this for Cassius.’”
Washington hit the two free throws to give Sierra Canyon a 19-17 advantage with 4:20 left. Harkless led Etiwanda to a 24-20 halftime lead, scoring 11 points throughout the first two quarters.
Sierra Canyon rolled out of halftime, outscoring Etiwanda 11-8 during the third. Camren Pierce of Etiwanda leaked out for a layup midway through the quarter and tried to bank the ball of the glass, but Martin chased it down and blocked the shot, knocking the 5-11 guard to the ground. Pippen Jr. energized the Trailblazers to end the period, tipping the ball through as time expired.
Pippen Jr. finished with 22 points on 14 shots, scoring nine from the free-throw line. Washington Jr. added 18 points and seven rebounds, while Martin scored 11. Edwards dominated for Etiwanda, posting 25 points and 12 rebounds on a 63 percent shooting clip. The 6-7 senior forward also grabbed 12 rebounds and snatched three steals.
Etiwanda finishes the season at 30-4 overall, falling to Mater Dei in the Southern Section semifinals and now Sierra Canyon in the state regional finals. The Eagles will lose Harkless as well as Edwards, to Division I hoops next season. Edwards is heading to Pepperdine, while Harkless is undecided.
The Trailblazers, after losing a last-second heartbreaker to Mater Dei in the Southern Section finals, advance to the state championship game against Sheldon. Sierra Canyon, a team with five transfers, has been able to overcome major adversity and gel at the perfect time of year. March 24 will be the last game for Washington Jr., who is headed to Ohio State next season.