Granada Hills girls basketball loses to Caruthers in CIF State finals but embraces big-stage opportunity

Granada Hills looks on against Caruthers in the second half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

SACRAMENTO — Granada Hills Charter girls basketball made history before it even began playing Caruthers in the CIF State Division III championship contest Friday afternoon at Golden 1 Center.

The Highlanders were the first girls basketball team to represent the Los Angeles City Section in Sacramento since Narbonne in 2001.

“They seized the moment of this opportunity and we were able to get to the state championship,” first-year Granada Hills head coach Rai Colston said. “And we want to continue this success and keep representing the community.”

Granada Hills outscored Caruthers in two quarters, but defensive pressure and turnovers allowed the Blue Raiders to come out with a 54-48 win and a CIF State title.

Karma Paez #14 of Granada Hills Takes a elbow to the face by Juliana Lemus #4 of Caruthers in the second half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Caruthers defeated Granada Hills 54-48 to win a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Karma Paez #14 of Granada Hills passes against Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Karma Paez #14 of Granada Hills passes against Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gabriella Arellano #11 of Granada Hills drives to the basket against Gizelle Aguirre #3 of Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gabriella Arellano #11 of Granada Hills drives to the basket against Gizelle Aguirre #3 of Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Karma Paez #14 of Granada Hills passes against Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Brigita Bulotaite #3 of Granada Hills shoots over Emmi Almeida #23 of Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Alyssa Badua #1 of Granada Hills Fights for the ball against Jaylee Moore #25 of Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Karma Paez #14 of Granada Hills Takes a elbow to the face by Juliana Lemus #4 of Caruthers in the second half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Brigita Bulotaite, right, of Granada Hills loses the ball against Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gabriella Arellano #11 of Granada after Caruthers defeated Granada Hills 54-48 to win a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Jordan Spidle Rogers
#20 along with teammate Araceli Gonzalez #33 of Granada after Caruthers defeated Granada Hills 54-48 to win a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Karma Paez #14 of Granada Hills passes against Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gabriella Arellano #11 of Granada Hills drives to the basket against Gizelle Aguirre #3 of Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Head coach Anna Almeida of Caruthers reacts against Granada Hills in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Alyssa Badua #1 of Granada Hills Drives to the basket against Celeste Mack #21 of Caruthers in the second half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Brigita Bulotaite, right, of Granada Hills loses the ball against Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Head coach Rai Colston of Granada Hills reacts against Caruthers in the second half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Head coach Rai Colston of Granada Hills reacts against Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Karma Paez #14 of Granada Hills drives to the basket against Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gabriella Arellano #11 of Granada Hills drives to the basket against Gizelle Aguirre #3 of Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Brigita Bulotaite #3 of Granada Hills shoots over Emmi Almeida #23 of Caruthers in the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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Karma Paez led Granada Hills with 15 points. Gabriella Arellano scored 11 points and pulled down six rebounds and Brigita Bulotaite added 10 points and six rebounds.

Caruthers gained a 6-0 lead to start the game, but the Highlanders nearly caught up on a 3-pointer from Gabriela Arellano and an easy lay-in from lengthy center Brigita Bulotaite.

Bulotaite’s size advantage has served Granada Hills well this season, but defenders flocked to her in the post on Friday afternoon and the Blue Raiders limited the Highlanders to eight points in the first quarter while scoring 16 for themselves.

“It created opportunities for other players to get some open shots,” Colston said of Bulotaite’s limitations. “And early on, we were knocking them down. Late in the game in the second half, we just couldn’t finish when we had opportunities.”

@haleymsawyer

Granada Hills girls basketball had the chance to play at an NBA arena in the CIF championships in Sacramento. https://www.dailynews.com/2024/03/08/granada-hills-girls-basketball-loses-to-caruthers-in-cif-state-finals-but-embraces-big-stage-opportunity/ #sports #basketball #highschoolbasketball #championships #girlsbasketball #womensbasketball #girlpower #coach #granadahills #golden1center #sacramento #sacramentokings

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Granada Hills was a perfect 6-for-6 at the free throw line in the second quarter to get its footing, and the team slowly began to settle in. Arellano went on to score eight points in the first half to help the cause.

Paez made five out of five free throws and the Highlanders were 9-for-10 overall from the line.

“If the shots aren’t landing, our first initial thought is try to get to the line to fix your form because it’s a wide-open shot,” Paez said. “And getting to that line really helped me adjust with my footing and that’s when my 3s started hitting.”

Paez and Alyssa Badua each hit 3-pointers in the last 1:45 before halftime and Granada Hills trailed 29-24 at the break.

The Highlanders made back-to-back 3s to start the third quarter, prompting the Alemany cheerleaders, who were in attendance for the Warriors’ boys game, to start cheering for them.

The Crusaders used a 5-0 scoring run, which finished with a steal and layup by Emma Almeida, to gain a 43-34 advantage by the end of the frame.

Granada Hills had a run of its own in the final quarter and was able to cut the deficit to six points with three minutes left in the game. The Crusaders deployed a full-court press and the Highlanders were able to score only four more points before the final buzzer.

“We knew the importance of the game and we were struggling to score and we didn’t have the energy throughout the game that we needed to win,” Emma Perez said. “I think we recognized that and so we came in the fourth quarter with more urgency.”

The Granada Hills girls basketball and girls soccer teams both won CIF SoCal Regional championship titles this winter — and both did it with first-year head coaches.

“This team has experience,” Colston said. “They played in the City championship in the top division last year and everybody stepped up as their roles increased this year. They embraced it and just kept playing hard.”

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