Ledrnby a suffocating defense and timely scoring, the Serra Cavaliers of Gardena wonrnthe girls’ Division I state high school basketball championship, going awayrnwith a 70-54 defeat of Sacred Heart Cathedral March 23 in Sacramento.

Itrnwas the second state title in Serra’s history, to go with the Division IV staterntitle earned in 2013, and provided a measure of satisfaction for Serra’srnseniors, who were freshmen when the Cavaliers lost the 2015 Division 1 titlerngame in double overtime. Serra (25-8) won this year’s Southern CaliforniarnRegional championship while San Francisco-based Sacred Heart (15-15) won thernNorthern California title, winning 10 of its last 13 before running into Serra.

Itrnwas also an emotional win for the Cavaliers. Players wore “DH” patches on theirrnuniforms in memory of the late Dwan Hurt, longtime successful coach of Serra’srnboys’ basketball team, who died suddenly in November 2016.

“Thisrnis a wonderful group of young ladies,” girls’ coach McKinley Hadley toldrnreporters immediately after the win at Golden 1 Center. “And our seniors ledrnthe way. When hard work and dedication meet athleticism, you see what canrnhappen.”

Itrnbegan happening in the first quarter, when the Cavaliers bolted to an 18-3 leadrnby forcing and capitalizing on numerous Sacred Heart turnovers. The Fightin’rnIrish — with five state titles to their credit — came back in the secondrnquarter, but Serra still led 31-18 at halftime.

AnotherrnSacred Heart run early in the third quarter closed the Cavaliers’ lead to threernat 35-32. Then Serra senior Cheyenne Givens, despite suffering a cut lip in arncollision, led the defense while scoring 20 points on offense, includingrn6-for-6 from the field, and Serra stretched its lead to 47-38 entering thernfourth quarter.

Thernlead grew to 13, only for Sacred Heart to make a spirited comeback and draw tornwithin 55-50 with three minutes left. But by applying full-court pressure itrnutilized throughout the game, the Cavaliers again drew away with an 11-2 run,rnwith junior Alexis Tucker tallying seven of the 11.

Thernlate surge was reminiscent of Serra’s SoCal Regional win over Ribet, when itrnnearly coughed up a fourth-quarter lead only to pull away and win by 12.

Serra’srnwin (the second state title for Coach Hadley) marked the third straight year arnlocal Catholic team has won a girls’ basketball state title, followingrnChaminade (Open Division) in 2016 and Rosary (Division 3) in 2017.