The La Cañada High School varsity boys’ basketball team was looking for another historic shot to tie Ontario Colony in the fourth quarter of the CIF Southern Section Division 2A championship at Azusa Pacific University’s Felix Center last Saturday.
A missed free throw gave the Spartans possession with 6.2 seconds remaining in the game. However, Ryan Grande’s rushed 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark and the Titans held on for a 50-47 victory and their second CIF-SS title in the past three years.
La Cañada had another opportunity to tie or take the leadwhen trailing, 49-47, late in the fourth but it was squandered as they turned the ball over with 7.2 seconds.
“That was tough,” said LCHS head coach Tom Hofman, who last guided the program to a CIF-SS title in 2011. “… Nothing you can do about that. I just think both teams played real hard. It was good basketball. The stars weren’t lined up for us today.”
La Cañada (27-7 overall record) came out hot in the second quarter with a 6-0 run to build what turned out to be the largest lead of the game, 19-11.
“We knew it was going to be tough because everybody knows how great Tom is offensively as a coach,” said Titans head coach Jerry De Fabiis. “He’s a legend, but he doesn’t get enough credit for how well they defend. This team only gives up 40 points per game and we knew that. They did a good job early on. We were taking tough shots. We were doing what they wanted us to do, taking quick shots and contested shots.”
Colony (28-5 overall) clawed its way back with a 7-0 run and limited the Spartans to only three points in the final three minutes of the second quarter, which ended with both teams tied, 22-22.
The Titans’ best quarter was the third when LCHS star Ryan Graves picked up his third foul, forcing him to play a little looser on defense.
“He was the only guy who could guard [Pepperdine-bound Sedrick Altman],” Hofman said. “We needed to keep him from the fourth foul and try to protect him.”
Colony took full advantage of a cautious Graves late in the third. Senior Noah Castillo buried two consecutive 3-pointers to help the Titans end the quarter with a 6-0 run and a 41-36 lead.
“It was huge,” De Fabiis said. “That really gave us a lot of life. We were frustrated with some of the calls and we couldn’t get a shot to fall. It just gave us life.”
The Spartans were unfazed by the run and tied the game, 41-41, with 4:09 remaining in the contest, but they quickly found themselves in another hole as Denim Dawson sparked a 6-0 run that gave the Titans their biggest lead of the game, 47-41, with 52 seconds remaining.
Altman, who was guarded by Graves throughout the game, struggled early but kept attacking the basket. He finished with a game-high 21 points for Colony.
“That’s what great players do,” De Fabiis said. “He’s never going to stop. … He has zero memory. He’s going to keep coming at you.”
Graves was just as determined with a team-high 15 points but struggled to find consistency on offense.
“Our game plan was to not let him get going because we saw him in the last game in the semifinals,” De Fabiis said. “He’s a kid who never quits. We were aware of where he was and really not helping go off at all. We were trailing him on screens and making him put [the ball] on the floor because he’s much better when he catches and shoots.”
The Spartans were stellar defensively, limiting Colony to 34.7% shooting from the field.
“We needed it to be [a close game] because they can score in bunches,” Hofman said. “I thought we did a great job defending. I thought Ryan Graves was phenomenal all year and tonight scoring points and guarding very well.”
The game was ultimately won at the free-throw line as Colony had 12 more shots from the charity stripe than La Cañada. The Titans had 11 points from the line and LC finished with four.
Zach Feehan chipped in 14 points and added a game-high 18 rebounds. Kyle Brown netted eight points, Jake George had six points with two 3-pointers, and Noah Ford and Grande contributed two points each.