By Justin Vigil Zuniga
For The Signal
The Trinity Classical Academy Knights (14-4) will play for the school’s first ever 5-A State Championship after a 67-38 win Thursday over Classical Academy of Escondido (18-10).
Trinity boosted its double-digit win streak to 10 games in a row while controlling all aspects of the semifinal matchup.
The Knights were able to deny Classical guard Faith Brinkman, who leads the Caimans in nearly every statistical category, with a stifling full-court press and dominating transition game.
Junior guard Kelly Lotz led the Knights with 23 points while snagging eight rebounds to once again lead the Knights.
“It was definitely a team effort,” said Lotz. “Mindset-wise, we knew this was going to be the hardest game we’ve played so far, so we came ready to work.”
After a tight first quarter, Trinity pulled away in the final minutes, securing the lead they’d only widen as the game progressed.
Classical was taking plenty of open 3-pointers while Brinkman was being denied open looks, but the Caimans struggled to execute in the first half. Malia Duarte, who drew the tough assignment of shutting down Brinkman, shadowed Classical’s leading scorer throughout the night. Duarte finished with seven boards and a pair of steals, while Brinkman was held to 13 points, well below the 20 per game she was averaging.
“Malia Duarte — she is incredible,” said Trinity head coach James De Monbrun, referring to the team’s defensive ace. “She’s the focal defender we use on other teams’ best players.”
The Knights went on a 10-0 run to start the third quarter as the Caimans were held without a field goal for the first six minutes of the second half.
Sophomore Lilly Caddow, the team’s second-leading scorer, finished with 18 points, including a big 3-pointer at the end of the first half, while also grabbing four rebounds and three assists.
Four Knights finished with five or more rebounds, led by forward Katie Brown who registered 12 boards, 13 points and three steals.
“We’ve been working really hard to try and make it to the state championship,” said Brown. “It’s been really fun to work with Kelly and Lilly. We have a connection there.”
The Knights finished with their highest point total of the season while handing Classical Academy its worst loss of the year.
“We’re spearheaded by our three captains,” said De Monbrun. “Kelly Lotz, Lilly Caddow and Katie Brown, they set the tone for our team. Their leadership and the inclusiveness they have built with this group, the other girls just fall in line.”
Trinity will now travel to San Fernando High School to play the Tigers (10-0) for a chance at the first girls basketball state championship title in school history.
Tipoff is set for Saturday at 7 p.m.
“It’s such an honor to do it with these girls,” Lotz said. “I’m proud of every single one of them. Every single person on this team has done so much to help us get here.”