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Ontario Christian girls basketball team holds off Sage Hill in CIF State Open Division regional opener

ONTARIO — All it took was an extraordinary night at the free-throw line by Kaleena Smith and some timely 3-pointers, but the Ontario Christian girls basketball program finally defeated Sage Hill.

Ontario Christian’s Kaleena Smith, #11 makes her way down the...

Ontario Christian’s Kaleena Smith, #11 makes her way down the courtas Sage Hill’s Amalia Holguin, #10 guards in the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Ontario Christian’s Amanda Ajobiewe, #10 attempts a shot as Sage...

Ontario Christian’s Amanda Ajobiewe, #10 attempts a shot as Sage Hill’s Emily Eadie, #1 intercepts during the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Sage Hill’s Kamdyn Klamberg, #33 moves past Ontario Christian’s defense...

Sage Hill’s Kamdyn Klamberg, #33 moves past Ontario Christian’s defense during the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Ontario Christian’s Amanda Ajobiewe, #10 moves past Sage Hill’s defense...

Ontario Christian’s Amanda Ajobiewe, #10 moves past Sage Hill’s defense during the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Ontario Christian’s Karsen Marshall, #21 attempts a shot during the...

Ontario Christian’s Karsen Marshall, #21 attempts a shot during the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener against Sage Hill on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Sage Hill’s Zoie Lamkin, #13 shoots her shot during the...

Sage Hill’s Zoie Lamkin, #13 shoots her shot during the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener against host Ontario Christian on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Ontario Christian’s Kailee Briggs, #22 tries to block Sage Hill’s...

Ontario Christian’s Kailee Briggs, #22 tries to block Sage Hill’s Emily Eadie, #1 in the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Sage Hill’s Kamdyn Klamberg, #33 steals the ball from Ontario...

Sage Hill’s Kamdyn Klamberg, #33 steals the ball from Ontario Christian’s Kaleena Smith, #11 during the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Ontario Christian’s Karsen Marshall, #21 attempts a shot as Sage...

Ontario Christian’s Karsen Marshall, #21 attempts a shot as Sage Hill’s Emily Eadie, #1 intercepts during the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Ontario Christian emerges victorious in the CIF State Open Division...

Ontario Christian emerges victorious in the CIF State Open Division girls basketball regional playoff opener against Sage Hill on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Ontario. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

The Knights built an 11-point fourth quarter lead before holding on for a 71-67 victory in a CIF State Open Division first-round regional playoff game Wednesday.

The third-seeded Knights (28-4) advance to play at No. 2 Sierra Canyon in the regional semifinals Saturday night.

Before Wednesday, Ontario Christian was 0-5 against Sage Hill in the last four years, including a 70-61 loss to the Lightning in the Redondo Tournament championship game in November.

“We finally got the monkey off our back,” Ontario Christian coach Matt Tumambing said. “They’re an amazing program, coached so well. Those girls work hard. It’s been a journey. It’s been year in, year out of taking a ring away from me, taking a state title away from me. To beat a program like that is amazing.”

It took some remarkable performances to get it done. That includes superstar freshman guard Smith, who scored a game-high 33 points, making her first 15 free throws and finishing 16 o f17 from the line, including a 9-of-10 effort in the fourth quarter.

“When I’m at the free-throw line, (it’s about) blocking the noise out. It’s just me and the rim,” Smith said. “Being able to connect 16 for 17, I feel like I really helped my team win.”

Smith also had seven assists and four rebounds.

“Kaleena is a phenomenal player,” Sage Hill coach Kerwin Walters said. “I thought we played pretty good defense. A lot of fouls (defenders) were pretty straight up. Seventeen free throw attempts, that’s a lot. But more credit to her. She does what she’s supposed to do.”

What had been a 60-49 Ontario Christian lead was trimmed to 70-67 when Princeton-bound Sage Hill senior Emily Eadie scored the final three of her team-high 30 points with 15.8 seconds left.

Smith was fouled with 6.5 seconds left. She missed her first free throw but made her second to give the Knights a four-point lead and making Sage Hill’s desperate attempt at the buzzer meaningless as long as Ontario Christian didn’t foul.

Ontario Christian made 11 3-pointers as a team, but Smith’s three didn’t lead the way. Senior Karsen Marshall went 4 of 7 from behind the 3-point line and scored 17 points, and senior Amanda Ajobiewe went 3 for 5 on 3-pointers and scored 10 of her 14 points in the second half.

Smith said the presence of Ajobiewe was a big difference this time against Sage Hill, since Ajobiewe did not play in the first matchup this year because she was serving her 30-day sit-out period after transferring from North High School.

The first half produced four ties and four lead changes, with the Knights leading by as many as seven points and the Lightning holding a lead as big as five points.

Sage Hill led 32-30 at halftime and held its final lead early in the third quarter. Ontario Christian took the lead for good at 41-40 on a free throw by Ajobiewe with 3:27 to play in the third, starting a 15-4 Knights run. After the Knights’ 11-point lead, the Lightning rallied although never got closer than three points.

Senior Annabelle Spotts added 14 points, and senior Kat Righeimer had 10 points for Sage Hill.

Now Ontario Christian has a chance at a rematch against another team that’s given them trouble, as Sierra Canyon routed them in the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs last year.

“We talked about it right now (after the game),” Tumambing said. “Let’s celebrate until 11:59 p.m. Then at midnight, our focus is on them (Sierra Canyon). We know they’re an amazing program. (They are) much bigger in size than Sage Hill, we have to be able to utilize other things to take advantage. It’s at their house. We got our butts kicked last year (80-18).”

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