After defeating Verdugo Hills in semifinals, Firehawks will play tonight for spot in State Championship

Firehawks sail through rounds one and two, but win Regional Semifinals by only three points.


DRIVE: Sophomore Yalee Schwartz ran to the basket and scored a layup during the Firehawks first-round game against the Larchmont Charter Timberwolves on March 1. Yalee had 24 points and the Firehawks won 71-15.

In a nail-biting contest, the Firehawk girls basketball team was able to pull through and advance to the CIF Southern State Region Finals last Saturday night at the Edward Roybal Learning Center

They defeated the Verdugo Hills Dons 57-54 in the Southern Regional semifinals and will look to move on to the State Championship later tonight when they face the Victory Christian Academy Knights in Chula Vista, San Diego County. 

A bus has been arranged to transport Shalhevet students to the game, leaving school at 1:45 p.m. 

The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) divides the state into two regions, Northern California and Southern California. The Firehawks are part of the Southern Region and will play in the Southern Region Championship tonight. 

The Northern Region Championship game will also be played tonight, between the San Domenico Panthers and the University Red Devils at the University of San Francisco.

OFFENSE: Junior Talia Tibi, who plays point guard, dribbled around the three-point line as the Firehawks defeated the Verdugo Hills Dons 57-54 on Saturday night. (BP Photo by Sam Elyaszadeh)

The winners of these two games will meet in the State Championship Friday morning. That game will take place in the Golden 1 Center, which is the home stadium of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. 

The state championship will also be aired on live television on Spectrum SportsNet. 

Sophomore Yalee Schwartz, who plays point guard, said the Firehawks have been preparing for tonight by watching film and trying to pinpoint the opposing players’ weaknesses. 

“We really want to win,” said Yalee. “We just want to play our hearts out. We want to make it to the championship.” 

When the Firehawks reached the Southern Section Division 4A semifinals on Feb. 19, it qualified them for a spot in the state playoffs. That was the farthest a Firehawk girls team had ever gone in CIF play, and positioned them to compete for the statewide prize.

Their first state playoffs game was on March 1, when they faced the Larchmont Charter Timberwolves in the Shalhevet gym and won comfortably 71-15. Their second game had a similar outcome, with the Firehawks winning 68-27 against the Maywood CES Wolfpack on March 3. 

Sophomore Davina Benelyahu, who plays point guard and shooting guard, said playing those games in the Shalhevet gym propelled the team to excel.

“Home court advantage is really important for us to have really good shooting games,” said Davina. “But also the teams we played on Tuesday and Thursday were not that talented.”

But the regional semifinal game was much closer, going down to the last second. Throughout the entire game, the lead went back and forth. For the majority of the first half, the Firehawks were down, but they were able to build a small lead and end the half up 29-24. 

The Dons began to heat up in the second half, narrowing the Firehawks’ lead to just one point after a few minutes in the third quarter. Shalhevet responded by going on an 11-point run and the Dons didn’t score for five minutes of the third quarter. The Firehawks’ lead was 42-31 with one minute remaining in the quarter.

Tonight’s winners will meet in the State Championship Friday morning. That game will be aired on live television on Spectrum Sportsnet.

In the fourth quarter, the Firehawks’ lead fell to six points, 51-45. The Dons continued to heat up and with one minute remaining, the Firehawks led by only three points, 57-54. 

The last minute of the game lasted for more than seven minutes, with both coaches calling timeouts and the Dons fouling the Firehawks to stop the clock. 

With three seconds left in the game, Verdugo Hills had possession. The Dons were able to put up a three-pointer but the ball bounced off the rim and the Firehawks were able to escape with the last-minute victory.

Top scorers for the Firehawks were Yalee with 21 points, sophomore Arielle Grossman with 16, and senior Talia Tizabi with 11. 

The Victory Christian Academy Knights, who the Firehawks will face tonight, have a record of 20 wins and 11 losses. They have won their previous state playoff games 71-25, 81-30 and 63-31. 

Shalhevet’s record for the season was 22 wins and six losses. 

Yalee said the Knights are a very fast-paced team, and the Firehawks plan to focus on preventing them from moving at their fast speed. 

“We are gonna play a different defense,” said Yalee. “Usually we play man-to-man, but this time we are gonna do a zone, because it is just going to be easier to defend the players that way.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated where the championship game would be broadcast. It will be shown at 10 a.m. Friday morning on Spectrum Sportsnet, not ESPN.