ARCADIA — No matter how many wins or how far a postseason run the Crescenta Valley High boys’ basketball team would make, one prize remained elusive year after year.
The Falcons were never quite able to haul in a Pacific League championship during the 10-year tenure of head coach and school alumnus Shawn Zargarian.
That was until Thursday evening, when the Falcons finally had their chance and only had struggling archrival Arcadia in their way.
While the Apaches gave the Falcons a real battle, there was no denying Crescenta Valley, which clinched a share of its first league title since 2004 with a 54-47 victory.
“I’m going to tell you right now I can finally say the words Pacific League champions,” said Zargarian, who was hugged after the victory by Jim Smiley, the last former Falcons coach to win a crown and who Zargarian assisted. “I’ve been dying for the last two or three weeks.
“The closer we’ve been getting – it’s like one those things where you’re reaching, but you can’t quite get there. We got there this year because of this special bunch.”
The Pacific League championship is the fourth-ever for Crescenta Valley (20-8, 12-2 in league) and third that involved Zargarian, who was a player on the 1995 winning squad and an assistant coach on Smiley’s bench in 2004.
With the win, the Falcons tie 10-time reigning league champion Pasadena (17-9, 12-2), which defeated archrival Muir on Thursday to grab its half of the title. Up next for the Falcons is the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs, which begin next week after the pairings are released Sunday.
As for Thursday’s contest, the Falcons received a challenge from the last-place Apaches (4-21, 1-13), who briefly held leads in the third quarter and never fell behind further than eight points in the second half until the final seconds.
Crescenta Valley took a 40-32 lead over Arcadia with 6:37 remaining in the game on a pair of free throws from senior center Eric Patten, who finished with a team-high 19 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.
Yet, the Apaches countered with a jumper from Aaron Harvey on their next possession down that fueled a mini 8-4 spurt capped on a straightaway three-pointer from Peter Panah with 3:37 remaining, which brought the home team within, 44-40.
While Falcons junior guard Kyle Currie missed on a three-pointer on the Falcons’ next possession, Patten was persistent, rebounding and missing a put back before coming down with another offensive board and scoring from two feet.
Again, though, Arcadia responded with a running jumper from Brandon Hardy at 1:54 to close back to four.
On perhaps the most important possession of the game, the Falcons came back downcourt and found an answer from Patten, who was fed an inside pass from Eric Bae (10 points and two steals) and converted a difficult fade away hook with 1:30 left that put the Falcons back up by six.
“I honestly thought I was fouled and I just threw something up,” Patten said. “When I hit that shot I knew the basketball gods were with us.”
Arcadia missed on an inside bucket which led to a Patten reverse layup with 35 seconds left that put Crescenta Valley up, 50-42, and clinched the game.
Thirty-five seconds later, the Falcons benched clear to celebrate the program’s league title.
The Zargarian-Smiley lineage wasn’t the only one on the court as Currie, the junior sharp-shooter, has bragging rights over his older brother Cole, now at Tulane, who was forced to settle for league runner-up designations.
“This feels good, we had to get a couple big wins from behind to get this,” said Kyle Currie, who finished with eight points. “I know Cole’s going to be a little bit jealous after tonight.”
Crescenta Valley led, 14-9, after the first quarter and seemed in control until the Apaches took a brief 18-17 advantage after a step-back three-pointer from Brendan Tran.
The Falcons took the lead back on the next possession thanks to a steal and layup from Arin Ovanessian and eventually took a 22-20 advantage into the break.
Arcadia pulled ahead again at 27-26 and lastly at 29-28 in the third with 4:01 left before the Falcons closed out the quarter on an 11-2 run.
“This win is special because we always seemed to be overlooked every year,” Bae said. “Everybody picked Pasadena or Burroughs because of their players, but forgot that we’re a team. This was our team goal since Day One, to win league.”