The Shadow Hills girls’ basketball team, and all the purple-clad fans, held their breath as a 3-point shot by Trinity Classical Academy arced toward the rim.
When it hit the front rim and bounced out, they could finally go crazy. And they did. The Knights exploded in jubilation and the fans joined in as Shadow Hills made history.
Wednesday night’s 60-58 victory puts Shadow Hills in the CIF-SS Division 3A championship game. It marks the first time for the girls’ basketball program and the first time for any of the six schools that currently make up the Desert Empire League.
“This is beautiful, these girls are my sisters, and I love them and we’re so happy to make history here at Shadow Hills,” said Knights senior Adonai Oudinarath. “We’ve been calling this ‘Ring Season’ since July and now we’re one step away.”
That final step will take place Saturday. The Knights, ranked No. 2 in the division, will go on the road for the championship game against No. 1 ranked Oaks Christian in Westlake Village near Los Angeles. Oaks Christian beat San Marcos 44-39 in the other semifinal.
No desert girls’ basketball team has won a CIF-SS title since Yucca Valley in 1986, and the only team from the Coachella Valley to ever win a girls’ title was the 1984 Indio Rajahs.
After the first 10 minutes or so, it looked like “Ring Season” was going to be canceled early. Trinity Classical (also the Knights) came out sharp and blitzed Shadow Hills to open up a 21-9 lead early in the second quarter.
That’s when senior point guard Sonia Urbina stepped up. The speedster took over the game and scored 13 points in the final six minutes of the first half to get Shadow Hills back in it, trailing just 27-24 at the half. That was big because the team’s overall confidence was shaken early, but at the half, they had the momentum.
“We didn’t come this far to choke in the semifinals. I was like ‘I’m not having that’ so I was like ‘someone has to step it up because we were missing layups, missing open shots’ and I just tried to step it up,” Urbina said of her second-quarter surge. “We want this so bad, and we’re just trying to go all the way.”
The second-quarter momentum carried over. Shadow Hills dominated the third quarter. An early Carla Hyatt steal and lookahead to Urbina for a layup gave Shadow Hills its first lead at 30-29, answering Trinity Classical’s 21-9 run to start with a 21-8 run of their own. Shadow Hills led by six after three quarters and held a comfortable 51-41 lead with about three minutes to go.
That’s when Trinity Classical Academy showed the championship mettle that helped them win the Division 5AA title in 2021.
The visitors cut the score to 54-49 on a 3-pointer by Ella Stepan with 1:20 left, and from that point on, Trinity Classical played the foul game. And it worked as Shadow Hills did not take care of business at the foul line. Shadow Hills made just 4 of 10 free throws in the final 1:10, allowing Trinity Classical to inch closer.
Lily Caddow made a pair of free throws with seven seconds left to cut the Shadow Hills’ lead to 59-58. They fouled Urbina with 4.2 seconds left, and Urbina split her free throws to make 60-58 with 4.6 seconds left.
Trinity Classical had to go the length of the floor and Shadow Hills double-teamed Trinity Classical’s point guard and best shooter Kelly Lotz. She whipped a pass in the right corner to Emma Schaff, who let a 3-pointer fly with 0.7 left on the clock. Mercifully for Shadow Hills, the ball hit the rim and bounced out, touching off a party near midcourt of jumping hugs and high fives.
“It’s just a gratifying feeling. This journey started in August. To finally see it come to fruition is a big deal,” first-year coach Timothy Britton said with post-game confetti still stuck to his bald head. “They got off to a hot start, but we kept our composure and ramped up the intensity in front of our home crowd. At the end was one of those moments where you hold your breath.”
Sonia Urbina, Shadow Hills: The senior stepped up big time, with a game-high 27 points and several game-changing steals and hustle plays in the second half.
Adonai Oudinarath, Shadow Hills: Oudinarath played one of her best games of the year. She scored 10 points, all in the second half. The Trinity Classical defensive gameplan included leaving Oudinarath open and trying to contain Shadow Hills’ “Big Four.” But Oudinarath made them pay, canning a pair of 3-pointers, which helped Shadow Hills gain separation.
“I’ve been working hard on my shot, getting up in the mornings and shooting, and I’m glad it finally paid off, because I’ve been missing most of the year,” Oudinarath said with a laugh. “Good timing.”
Carla Hyatt, Shadow Hills: You know you’re going to get max effort out of Hyatt, who finished with 13 points, and it was her ball pressure during the Knights’ full-court press that caused problems for the Trinity Classical ball-handlers.
Victoria Hyatt, Shadow Hills: It was an off-shooting night for Hyatt, but she contributed in a lot of ways throughout and made three crucial free throws down the stretch.
Kelly Lotz, Trinity Classical: Lotz finished with a team-high 20 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter as Trinity Classical climbed back into it.
Lily Caddow, Emma Schaaf and Ella Stepan, Trinity Classical: This trio all hit double-digits during a balanced scoring attack for the visitors. Caddow had 12, Schaaf 11 and Stepan 10.
Shad Powers covers high school sports for The Desert Sun. You can reach him at [email protected].
CIF-SS playoff schedule
3AA: Cerritos 64, Yucca Valley 51
3A: Shadow Hills 60, Trinity Classical Academy 58
5AA: Desert Christian Academy 53, Laguna Beach 50 (OT)
D5: Artesia 2, Desert Mirage 1
Girls’ basketball CIF Finals (Time TBA)
3A: Shadow Hills at Oaks Christian
5AA: Capistrano Valley Christian at Desert Christian Academy