LA CRESCENTA — Much like its start to the Pacific League boys’ basketball season, Crescenta Valley High found itself in a hole Friday evening.
The Falcons trailed by nine points early in the fourth quarter versus arguably a more athletic opponent in nine-time defending Pacific League champion Pasadena.
Yet, Crescenta Valley remained poised, defended well and hit just enough free throws in rallying for a thrilling 55-51 victory that put the Falcons in a position to at least clinch a share of the league title.
“I told our guys before the game, we can’t do this, we can’t fall behind and expect to come back again and that’s exactly what we did,” Falcons Coach Shawn Zargarian said. “Our athletic director [Dave Mendoza] said that we were down nine and had them just where we wanted them.”
With the victory, Crescenta Valley (18-8, 10-2 in league) has pulled even with Pasadena (15-9, 10-2) atop the league standings with two league contests remaining.
On the climb to the top, the Falcons recovered from a 3-2 start to league play, good for a fourth-place position, by winning seven straight games that included improbable rallies versus Glendale (65-62), Muir (49-47) and Burroughs (55-49).
Crescenta Valley, which trailed, 44-35, at the 6:38 mark in the fourth quarter, took its first lead since 1-0 at 50-49 after junior varsity call-up Arin Ovanessian (12 points) drained a straightaway three-pointer with 2:21 remaining, which led to a timeout by Pasadena.
After the break, the Bulldogs put the ball in the hands of star guard Ajon Efferson, who was defended at times by a trio of players in Berj Krikorian, Eric Bae and Arin Pezeshkian.
Crescenta Valley’s defense shined under pressure, as Efferson committed back-to-back turnovers on Pasadena’s next two possessions, which was eventually cashed into a layup when Bae split defenders en route to a bucket that gave the Falcons a 52-49 advantage with 56.2 seconds remaining.
Pasadena missed a three on its next possession and was forced to foul.
While Crescenta Valley missed the front end of a one-plus-one bonus, Ovanessian rebounded the missed free throw, which led to a timeout with 34.3 seconds left.
Pasadena then appeared destined to tighten the screws when Efferson stole a pass with 23 seconds left and fired a pass to streaking senior Rayjon Moore (10 points).
Yet, the Blair High transferred missed a wide-open dunk that was rebound by Bae, who was immediately fouled by Moore.
Bae sank two free throws with 18.4 seconds left to ice the game.
“Bae had some huge free throws and a big rebound for us, [Ovanessian] was big again and [Pezeshkian] played great defense,” Zargarian said. “We had a lot of big contributions.”
Maybe the biggest contribution came from Falcons forward Eric Patten, who led his team with a game-high 29 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Patten helped revive his team after the Falcons were on the brink of being run out of their building.
Pasadena raced to a 10-1 lead at 4:14 in the first, highlighted on a dunk from Tyrek Adams (12 points).
Yet, Patten converted Crescenta Valley’s first field goal at 3:02 before following with an offensive putback with 30.9 seconds left that pulled the Falcons within 13-8 at the close of the first.
“This was so much fun,” said Patten, who fouled out of the team’s first meeting. “Everybody has a role on this team and there isn’t all this pressure on one player. I’m proud of this team and there’s no doubt we’re going to win a championship.”
The Falcons eventually knotted the game at 20 with 1:12 left in the first half before Moore finished with a layup to give Pasadena a 22-20 lead into the break.
While Crescenta Valley was always within striking distance of Pasadena, the Falcons couldn’t take the lead and fell behind 40-35 after three.
Even though the Falcons were excellent in defending Efferson and holding the guard to 19 points on six-for-16 shooting, the senior guard opened the fourth with a jumper and then two free throws to put Pasadena ahead by nine.