LA CRESCENTA — There will be no undefeated run through the Pacific League.
The Crescenta Valley High boys' basketball team made sure of that Tuesday evening.
In a game filled with fouls, free-throwing shooting and just enough defense, the Falcons delivered visiting Muir its first league setback of the season, 60-51.
With its third straight league victory, Crescenta Valley improved to 14-5 overall and 4-2 in league, while Muir (10-8, 5-1) dropped into a tie for first place with defending league champion Pasadena (11-7, 5-1).
The Bulldogs and Mustangs will renew their heated city rivalry Friday, meaning the Falcons can gain further traction in the Pacific League chase that includes Burbank (4-2) and Burroughs (4-2).
It was only eight days ago that it appeared the Falcons' season was teetering on the brink as the squad was 1-2. Moments after his team's victory over Muir, Crescenta Valley's resurgence was not lost on head coach Shawn Zargarian.
"You know what's interesting about our team – and I was just telling the guys in the locker room – is that every time we've been faced with a challenge to play a very good team," Zargarian said, "whether it was Santa Barbara, Long Beach Millikan or Muir, who was 5-0, it's like our demeanor and personalty changes and we play at such a high level.
"We start sharing the ball [and] we take great shots. Our scrappiness on defense is there, our ability to dive on loose balls. It's can we play at this level all the time?"
Perhaps there was no bigger X-factor in Tuesday's game than fouls.
Muir was hamstrung midway through the first quarter and was called for 24 fouls, which saw leading scorer Hunter Woods fouling out and top players Darius Henderson and Tiyon Martin ineffective on the defensive end since both were saddled with four fouls apiece.
"It's terrible, terrible," Muir Coach Simaine Stewart said. "I don't have to say nothing. Anyone who saw the game, saw it. You saw how many fouls my guys got against their guys. How do you [almost] foul out three players? It's terrible."
Crescenta Valley was called for 19 fouls.
One of the most costly fouls for Muir came with 13.1 seconds left in the third quarter when Woods, who led his team with 18 points and 10 rebounds, fouled out while attempting a steal.
Crescenta Valley's Arin Ovanessian, who led his team with 20 points and five rebounds, sank one of two free throws to give the Falcons a 51-40 advantage going into the fourth. The foul was the eighth against the Mustangs, who had already sent Crescenta Valley into the bonus with 1:14 remaining in the third quarter.
The Falcons eventually extended their advantage to 57-44 after a jumper from Koko Kechichian with 3:46 left that closed the door on Muir, which never pulled any closer than eight points.
"In the fourth quarter, Muir tried to speed it up and play their pace and they got it down to eight, but we got back to our pace and we took control," Ovanessian said.
Muir opened on fire behind the inside-outside game of 6-foot-8 sophomore center Henderson, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Henderson put his team ahead, 13-7, on an offensive putback, but picked up his second foul with 4:20 left in the first.
With a void in the middle of the paint, a Falcons team that was cold from the outside starting slashing inside for buckets and built up its confidence.
When Henderson eventually returned at the 6:29 mark in the second quarter, the Falcons had just tied it, 19-19, on a pair of free throws from Journey Shank.
The Falcons then took a lead they never relinquished, 22-19, when Trey Ballard hit a three-pointer with 5:34 left in the first half.
Crescenta Valley eventually closed out the half up, 34-26, on a jumper from Ovanessian off an assist from 6-2 senior forward Chris Reik, who battled inside for 12 rebounds.
While Muir cut its deficit to four in the third quarter, the Falcons pushed back with a 7-0 run keyed by five points from Shank to go up, 41-30, with 4:55 left in the quarter.
Gabe Ajemian and Shank added eight points for the Falcons, while Javonte James contributed 11 point for Muir.