By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
SOUTH PASADENA — It was a good thing the La Canada High School girls basketball team was making its free throws.
The Spartans made only 3 of 17 field-goal attempts in the second half, but converted 8 of 14 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to hold off South Pasadena, 43-34, and claim the Rio Hondo League title in a first-place showdown Thursday night.
La Canada finishes the regular season 9-1 in league play, winning its first league title since 2010. South Pasadena finishes 8-2. Both teams now eagerly await Sunday’s announcement of the CIF-Southern Section playoff pairings.
“It is so surreal,” Spartans junior Courtney Chen said of her first title. “I can’t believe we won it. We worked so hard this year. I’m so happy.”
The Tigers, trying to win their first league title since 1999, made one field goal in the game’s final 4 1/2 minutes.
“We just couldn’t hit one,” South Pasadena coach Tammy Lai said. “That made it difficult. We tried. It’s just the shots weren’t falling.”
La Canada led by as much as 29-17 in the third quarter, but the Tigers went on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 33-30. Sophia Hathaway scored on a putback with 4:32 to play, the last South Pasadena field goal for more than four minutes.
Elise Takahama hit a pair of foul shots with 3:28 to play to make it 33-30 and Spartans coach Tamar Hill called timeout.
Chen, who had a game-high 19 points, drove to the basket, drew out the defense and hit Lauren Barsamian for an uncontested layup with 2:15 to play.
“The key was that Courtney made a great decision,” Hill said. “Earlier she was trying to force it. I told her to calm down, let the play develop and she did. That’s why she is the player she is.”
Chen said it gave the Spartans confidence.
“I knew in that position we had to pull it together and play as a team,” she said. “I need to get my team out of that position. I need to make my team feel confident and as comfortable as possible. They give me confidence to do what I do out there and I feel I have to return that and give them that easy basket and get their confidence up, too.”
La Canada did not have another field goal the remainder of the game. But the Spartans did not need one. The Tigers missed seven consecutive shots, nearly all 3-pointers. They had to foul La Canada. Chen made 6 of 8 foul shots in the quarter.
When Lexie Scholtz finally hit a 3-pointer, the Tigers’ first in the game after missing all 17 previous attempts, La Canada had a 42-34 lead with only seconds left on the clock.
The win avenged a 52-27 South Pasadena victory two weeks ago.
“I told them the pressure is really on them,” Hill said. “They won the last time. We can just waltz into their gym and do what we do. We came out guns blazing in the first half and it was good to see our team respond like that.”
La Canada went on a 10-2 run to start the second quarter to build that lead that South Pasadena tried to chip away at. Aundrea Issakhanian had six points in a row during the run.
By Keith Lair, Staff Writer