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Mater Dei’s Kevin Kiernan era ends with loss to Etiwanda in girls basketball regional semifinals

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Saturday was a significant girls basketball game for both coaches.

For Etiwanda’s Stan Delus, it was one step closer to becoming a legend.

For Mater Dei’s Kevin Kiernan, it was the end of a legendary era.

Etiwanda seized control for good late in the second quarter and defeated Mater Dei 76-58 in a CIF State Open Division regional semifinal game at Etiwanda High School.

The top-seeded Eagles (30-3) will host No. 2-seeded Sierra Canyon in the regional final Tuesday night. It is a rematch of the CIF Southern Section championship game, which Etiwanda won 65-44.

The game not only ended the season for fourth-seeded Mater Dei (25-8), but it was the last game for Kiernan, who previously announced his retirement from coaching effective at the end of the season. Kiernan won his state-record 900th career game Wednesday in the first round of state playoffs against Mission Hills.

“I am humbled,” Delus said of taking his program to its fourth consecutive regional final. “We lost to Lynwood (three years ago) and ever since then we’ve been pushing an amazing run of basketball with different teams.

“He (Kiernan) is pretty special to me. He took care of one of my (trainee) kids 13 years ago. I brought her to him. He took care of her. We’ve had a good relationship since then. I’ve always admired him. I told him, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done for the girls game as I thank you for the countless hours of talks we’ve had over the last 20 years.’”

Although the Eagles never trailed in the game’s final 29 minutes, it was only a five-point lead until a 10-2 run to close the first half to give Etiwanda a 44-31 halftime lead. The Eagles never led by fewer than 13 points in the second half.

Senior Kennedy Smith led Etiwanda with 17 points and six rebounds, while junior Grace Knox added 16 points and 13 rebounds. Aliyahna “Puff” Morris and Arynn Finley (5-of-7 shooting) scored 12 points apiece.

Etiwanda was able to extend its lead to as many as 22 points despite getting some foul calls that frustrated Delus.

‘What makes us special is that this group knows how to grind out tough wins,” Delus said. “They know how to battle through adversity and they still keep their confidence about them when things go wrong.”

Jenessa Cotton, a 6-foot-3 senior, led all scorers with 25 points for Mater Dei, while freshman Chasity Rice added 12.

The Monarchs were already underdogs but were further hurt after the loss of 6-foot-1 sophomore forward Kaeli Wynn, who scored 29 points Wednesday but injured her ankle in practice Thursday and did not play.

“We knew it was going to be uphill with her,” Kiernan said. “Now it became mountainous (without her). We know how good Etiwanda is. They’re a great team. I don’t know if it (having Wynn) would’ve made a difference. They’re a very physical, a very well-coached team.”

Kiernan’s final season was one that included coaching two daughters: junior Devyn (four points Saturday) and freshman Kaidyn.

“I have no regrets (retiring),” Kiernan said. “I feel good about my decision. I love these guys, they’re great kids. I want to have a little different vantage point (with Devyn and Kaidyn)… instead of yelling at them, yelling for them.”

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