Tom Hofman isn’t one to exaggerate, much less sugarcoat, so when the La Caada boys basketball coach says Saturday’s home crowd against Inglewood was the loudest in his 25 seasons at the helm, it’s because he means it.
“We’ve had a couple games like that,” Hofman said, “but nothing that noisy. When we played Compton Centennial in 2007 we had a great crowd, but I don’t think we had a crowd as enthusiastic as that. The crowd was a tremendous home-court advantage.”
It’s that kind of edge, Hofman said, that’s fueled the Spartans in the final minutes of games throughout their postseason run, which now finds them in Saturday’s CIF State Division III Southern California Regional title game against La Verne Lutheran at USC’s Galen Center.
La Caada (30-3) earned a first-round bye in the state playoffs after doing what many considered impossible: beating powerhouse Price of Los Angeles to win the school’s second CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA championship.
The impressive feat – one that required patience and precision – turned the Spartans into the must-see team of the regional playoffs. That much was accentuated by the fact La Canada saw long lines circle the school gym an hour before tipoff against Crespi in the second round. An L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy helped control the crowd.
In that game, the Spartans withstood the Celts’ frantic effort that ended with a last- second shot that didn’t hit the rim, prompting the student section to rush the court. After the court finally cleared, Hofman and a game official, from the L.A. City Section, chatted.
“He said it was the best home court he’d ever seen,” Hofman said. “And they’ve been tremendous. They’ve been the sixth man, without a doubt, during the playoff period.
“When you have a crowd like that and close games like that, it definitely is a factor into boosting energy.”
La Caada broke from tradition against Inglewood in holding strong to its lead, converting all seven field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter.
Still, the La Caada crowd rushed the court in what was the final home game for the team’s 14 seniors.
Still making strides
This late in the season, teams will usually have hit a peak, but not La Caada.
Hofman feels the Spartans are getting better, and added that fatigue won’t be an issue, what with a chance to play for a state title on the horizon.
“They’re very focused,” Hofman said. “The key is they’re starting to play together.”
That wasn’t always the case. La Caada had just completed its first half of the Rio Hondo League season and Hofman felt that the Spartans were playing inconsistent basketball since the start of the season, and that players were self-involved.
“We talked about the finality of the season, that if we don’t start playing together, the season was going to end real soon,” Hofman said.
“We were a little too individual, everybody trying to be all-league players instead of looking out for the best interest of the team. They took it to heart, and from that point on we turned it around.”
In the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, the Spartans beat Bishop Montgomery in double overtime, squeezed out a one-point win over Palm Springs, and forced Price into playing a relaxed tempo that clearly didn’t benefit a run-and-gun offense that featured three Division I-bound athletes.
Added Hofman: “I don’t think I’ve had a team play this many games and continually get better.”