Santiago girls basketball team rallies past Harvard-Westlake to reach Division 1 final

CORONA — The Santiago girls basketball team found itself in a familiar position.

The Sharks overcame multiple double-digits deficits to beat North Torrance earlier in the week and were trailing once again against Harvard-Westlake in Saturday afternoon’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinal game.

Santiago rose to the occasion one more time behind a defense that held Harvard-Westlake to 13 points in the second half an zero field goals in the fourth quarter. The 48-42 victory moved Santiago into the Division 1 championship game against Brentwood on Feb. 24 at the Toyota Arena in Ontario.

It is Santiago’s third CIF Southern Section finals appearance under the leadership of coach Mike Mitchell.

“We’ve been preaching defense and rebounding from day one because we are undersized, and our ability to get stops and rebounds won this game,” Mitchell said. “When all is said and done at season’s end, the journey this team has gone on to get here is what I’ll remember.”

Harvard-Westlake led 15-4 after the first quarter behind 10 points from Angelina Habis, including her 3 pointer with less than five seconds left. The Wolverines (14-18) extended the lead to 29-11 during the second period.

Santiago (21-11) went on a 13-0 run covering a six-minute span in the second and third quarters to jump back in the game. Andrea Alamo made a runner in the lane with under 10 seconds remaining in the first half to trim the deficit to 29-20 at intermission, and Zawadi Ogot scored the first four points of the second half for the Sharks.

Harvard-Westlake pushed the lead back to eight points when Deana Thompson converted a three-point play, but Rylee Ghent sank a corner 3-pointer from an inbound play to help Santiago get within 39-33 heading into the fourth quarter.

“We have a lot of trust and belief in each other,” Ogot said. “I’m proud of our team for finding a way to get this win, but we all know that we have to get off to better starts in these games. We’ve overcome a lot of adversity to get here, against one of the Inland Empire’s best schedules and are ready for our opportunity.”

Ogot’s field goal with 2:37 remaining was the last scored by either side, and she made the go-ahead free throws with 1:21 left. Santiago’s full court pressure forced five Harvard-Westlake turnovers over the final two minutes. The Sharks capitalized with 14 free throws in that span, hitting 10 to take the lead and finish off a win.

“I’m so proud of our group for getting here without two starters, but our inability to handle their pressure and play defense without fouling took their toll down the stretch today,” Wolverines coach Melissa Hearilhy said.

Thompson led all scorers with 19 points for Harvard-Westlake, while Habis added 10 points, all in the first quarter. Ogut and Cobbs scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, to lead the way for Santiago.

For Santiago Ogot had 13 points and Cobbs 12.

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