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Sage Hill defeats Fairmont Prep 49-33 to take command of San Joaquin League title race: 4 takeaways

Sage Hill rode a 19-6 first quarter and never looked back.

NEWPORT BEACH– The Lightning rode a thunderous first quarter on Thursday to beat Fairmont Prep for the first time in school history and take a stranglehold of the San Joaquin League title race. Zoie Lamkin and Emily Eadie combined for 30 points, and Sage Hill never looked back en-route to a 49-33 victory. Here are four takeaways from the game:

SWEET REVENGE – WITH HUGE LEAGUE IMPLICATIONS

After Sage fell 52-36 to the Huskies on Jan. 3, when it was missing starting F Annabelle Spotts and Fairmont was missing two starters as well, the Lightning turned the table with a 16-point win of their own. The victory puts Sage Hill in a great position to compete for its first league title since 2009 (when it was in a different league), which means that the San Joaquin League will have a new hierarchy.

The past two seasons have seen Fairmont Prep and Orangewood Academy split league titles, with Sage Hill coming in third place both times. After the Lightning were more of an afterthought for a top-two spot in 2019-20, they played both league alpha dogs very close in their games against them last season, and have now fully closed the gap.

A week after the loss against Fairmont earlier this season, Sage Hill defeated Orangewood Academy 47-42. That means a win at Orangewood on Jan. 29 would guarantee them at least a tie for a league title, as long as they go 3-0 in two games against the Webb Schools and one game against St. Margaret's. (The Lightning defeated St. Margaret's by 40 points on Jan. 13, and Fairmont defeated Webb Schools 72-8 on Jan. 17.)

So, if Sage defeats Orangewood next week and Orangewood wins one or both games against Fairmont, Sage wins the league outright. If the Lightning defeat Orangewood next week and Fairmont wins both matchups against Orangewood, Sage and Fairmont share a league title. If Sage loses against Orangewood, it still gets half a league title if Orangewood and Fairmont split, and a third of the league title if Orangewood sweeps Fairmont. The only scenario remaining – assuming all three successfully teams hold off their other league opponents – would be if Sage Hill falls to Orangewood and Fairmont sweeps Orangewood, which would give the Huskies sole possession of the league title. All other scenarios result in at least some of a league title for the Lightning.

SAGE HILL MAKES ITS MARK IN DOMINANT FIRST QUARTER

The first quarter was the story in this one, as Sage Hill stormed out to a 19-6 lead and would never lead by fewer than three possessions again. Head coach Kerwin Walters said after the game that a high energy level was the key to the hot start, in addition to strong shot-making in the opening frame.

"Our energy defensively is back to the way we play. When we play with a high level of intensity on defense, we're a tough team to play against. The first time we played Fairmont, they brought a crazy amount of energy, and we didn't match it. Today, we brought our energy level up and put them in some compromising spots."

All five starters connected on at least one field goal in the first quarter for Sage. Zoie Lamkin hit a pair of threes, and Emily Eadie had five points after one quarter as well.

"Zoie Lamkin was super calm, got into her groove and that sparked the rest of the girls," said Walters.

"Emily Eadie is a double-double machine, Annabelle Spotts [returned from injury] and we're a very different team with her. Obviously Izzy (Gomez) has been fantastic for us in her four years here, and she's always a threat. Kat didn't have a great shooting night tonight, but her defense was what we needed tonight. It was a great defensive performance overall tonight."

Huskies PG Andrea Javier had 26 points on six made threes last game, but was held to seven points on Thursday. Walters attributed to the difference to a team-wide focus not to lose her on pick-and-rolls, and to the smothering individual defense of Kat Righeimer.

"[Javier] shot the ball so well (last game) that we had to focus on her. We put Kat on her who is a little longer."

FAIRMONT GOES DOWN BATTLING

The Huskies stopped the bleeding as soon as the first quarter was over, playing Sage Hill even in the second quarter and winning the third quarter by four points. Throughout the middle two quarters, they would never trail by more than 14, and cut the deficit to single-digits multiple times. Fairmont only trailed 37-28 after three quarters and cut the deficit to seven points with a little over six minutes left in the game. However, that was the closest it would get. Every potential Huskies rally got nipped in the bud before they were able to go on a full run.

"Their O-boards and second chance opportunities hurt us, 50/50 balls hurt us," said Fairmont Prep head coach Sara Brown.

"We weren't shooting it great, but we had it down to seven with five or six minutes left. We were right there, and I thought it was our time, but we just fell short on some shots and had some defensive lapses. Their length bothered us a lot."

Brown said that she thought her squad was a little uncharacteristically gassed, and was pleased with the team's willingness to battle when nothing was going its way.

"The first quarter is really what shot us in the foot. I'm proud of our girls for the effort – we're small but you gotta give the credit to Sage. I'm happy we got a chance to split," said Brown.

"There were definitely a lot of positive takeaways. We had chances... but to beat good teams, you have to capitalize on any opportunities you get, and we didn't capitalize."

The Huskies still control their own fate in the SJL race. Defeating OA twice would be a tall order, but it's far from out of the question. And if OA gets revenge next week against Sage Hill, Fairmont Prep only needs one win against OA to split a league title.

Maddie Salud led the Huskies with 10 points, Maile Oshita scored eight points, and Misty Twyman added seven.

LIGHTNING'S 2024 CORE IS BOTH THE FUTURE AND THE PRESENT

After one of the best seasons in school history last season in which it won a CIFSS 3-AA championship, Sage Hill had the potential to take a small step back this season. Despite returning their top player and star point guard, senior Isabel Gomez, the Lightning lost some key seniors and have largely depended on sophomores this season to fill the void. Those sophomores – including Lamkin, Eadie, Righeimer, and Spotts, all of whom start – have not only gotten the job done, but are flourishing. While that core has substantial upside to grow into in the next two seasons, it's already helping the program continue its fast rise while its talented 2022 class is still around.

Lamkin led all scorers with 16 points, and Eadie totaled with 14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Spotts finished with nine points, seven rebounds, and three assists.

Walters gives his four seniors substantial credit for helping the team stay in contention with underclassmen playing a key role.

"We have awesome senior leadership, and it just makes the transition for our sophomores better," he said. "Without them, it would be a little bit rougher of a road, but they know they can rely on our senior leadership, and one of the best point guards in the state in my opinion. They have that security blanket with her. Megan provides intense defense, we missed having her, and she's back."

After averaging well over 20 PPG in both of the last two seasons while leading the team in assists, Gomez' usage has gone down a bit this season with other scorers stepping up. But with her willingness and abilities to both distribute the ball and take up defensive attention without the ball in her hands, alongside Sage's rising 2024 stars, the Lightning's offense is more multidimensional than ever. In this win, she only scored five points on a small handful of shot attempts, but finished with several assists, and her gravity off the ball made a significant impact on the game offensively.

"It is a blessing to have a senior point guard who can do everything," said Walters.

"They feed off her every year. This year, she doesn't have to go for 35 points anymore but... she draws so much attention that it releases everyone else. It's a sacrifice she's making like, 'I'm not scoring as much, but I'm making our team better overall.' I couldn't ask for anything more from a senior."

"Orangewood is going to be super intense," said Walters.

"That was our first win against Orangewood ever, and this was our first win against Fairmont ever. I know they're going to be hyper-focused, super comfortable in their gym... we know they'll all be ready. We might've caught them a little bit by surprised in the first game, and that's not going to happen in the second game. To get an opportunity to have a chance to be a league champ, it's awesome. It's a good feeling. Hopefully our girls can rise to the occasion and play a strong game. If we win great, if we tie great... obviously we want to go get it but it's been a real fun season thus far – the girls have made it fun."

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