May 17, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Santa Monica ends Crean Lutheran’s bid for first CIF title with 44-40 victory

Crean Lutheran players deal with the loss Saturday in the CIF championship game. (Photo Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone)

Crean Lutheran’s girls basketball team appeared headed toward its first championship in the program’s short history Saturday morning at Azusa Pacific University.

But top-seeded Santa Monica made some big plays in the final minutes to capture a 44-40 victory over the Saints in the CIF 3AA championship game.

To see the slide show, please click on the first photo

Both teams will move on to the Southern California Regionals next week.

Santa Monica (26-7) was led by Chantal Moawad who scored 23 points. Iternite Reed added 10 points. Taylor Feldman scored 14 points, Trinity Cha had eight points and Shannon O’Malley and Emily Reed six points each for the third-seeded Saints (26-5). Hailee Daniel battled all game, grabbing nine rebounds and scoring four points before fouling out late.

“I’m beyond proud of these girls,” said Crean Lutheran Coach Bianca Ziemann. “We knew we were taking on a very good Santa Monica team that has probably the best and tallest post player we’ve played all year. She’s going to Brown, the kid can play.”

But Ziemann said her team executed what it set out to do.

“We needed to get her (Moawad) in foul trouble, we did. It just came down to the last couple seconds, the last possessions of the game and the ball didn’t fall on our side, the last couple of games it did,” Ziemann said. “We didn’t shoot a very good percentage and we knew if she (Moawad) was going to play, that we had to connect. But I got to hand it to these girls, we never gave up. We had the win and it just didn’t fall for us.”

Santa Monica tied the game 37-37 on a basket by Moawad with 1:46 left in the contest.

Kalaya Hudson scored with 57 seconds left to put Santa Monica ahead 39-37. Crean Lutheran was unable to connect on the next trip down and Moawad sealed the win with a basket with 29.5 seconds left to push the margin to four.

In the larger gymnasium which can be a challenge for teams who haven’t played in one, Santa Monica made 42 percent of its field goal attempts and Crean Lutheran 24 percent. Santa Monica also outrebounded Crean Lutheran 38-29. The game was physical with players from both teams often diving for loose balls, some hard fouls and lots of contact around the basket.

Santa Monica Coach Doug Kim said his team has been in close games and overtime games and rallied from deficits to win. So it was prepared for the final minutes.

“At the end of the game, I felt when we took the lead, the pressure really wasn’t on us anymore,” said Santa Monica Coach Doug Kim. “The pressure was on Crean Lutheran and we knew we could play defense and get a stop and control the boards.”

Crean Lutheran players, who were inspired by their fans who made the lengthy journey for the 10 a.m. game, tried to deal with the loss after the game.

“It was a great effort, all of us just tried to push through,” Feldman, a junior, said. “We knew we were going against taller, stronger posts and we knew we were going to play against huge girls and we’re quite a small team, so we knew we had to use our strengths and hit our three’s and our shots. Sadly, they weren’t falling. I’m just proud of our girls in that we’ve pushed through everything and we’ve been through so many adversities his year and we just knew we had to push through and this was our game.”

“Obviously, the outcome wasn’t what we wanted,” Cha, a senior, added. “But I think there is a lot to be said about the journey that it took to get here. And I think we have a lot to be grateful for just to have this experience, our team, our coaches, our fans. There was a lot of love today and a lot of good moments. I think that’s what we will take away from this whole experience. It doesn’t matter the outcome, and we have another shot at it (in state).”

Crean Lutheran jumped out to a 17-9 lead after one quarter and held a 28-22 halftime lead.

Both teams struggled in 3-point shooting. Santa Monica did not make a shot in nine attempts while Crean Lutheran connected on 7 of 30 (23 percent).

It was the second time that Crean Lutheran has reached the finals. The Saints lost to Heritage Christian in the 5AA championship game in 2017.

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone;