The La Cañada High boys’ basketball team's fans erupted when it looked like the Spartans were racing toward another comeback victory against La Verne Lutheran in the CIF State Division III Southern California Regional finals Saturday.
La Verne looked to be in the driver’s seat, up, 49-40, with 1:40 left in the game. But La Cañada popped back up in the rearview mirror, as Mike McGlashan hit two free throws and a three-pointer off a Trojan turnover with 1:20 left — cutting the lead to 49-45.
The Spartans’ fans could almost taste another fairytale victory 20 seconds later when Mason Holle stole the ball from La Verne’s Eric Cooper Jr. and raced down the floor with two-on-one advantage and a chance to make it a two-point game.
Holle bounced a pass to a streaking Spartan but La Verne’s Charles Cooper Jr. played perfect defense, sticking his hand in the passing lane at the last second for the steal. Cooper chucked the ball up the court to his teammate, Bruce English, who laid it up and in — giving the Trojans a 51-45 lead.
“That was probably the biggest play of the game,” La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman said. “[Charles Cooper Jr.] made a great defensive play and it sucked the wind out of our sails.”
The Trojans pulled out the 57-47 win, advancing to the CIF Division III state championship in Sacramento.
Still, the Spartans’ starters received a standing ovation, as they were pulled for reserves down 10 points with 10 seconds left. The La Cañada fans packed USC’s Galen Center, turning it into the La Cañada Sports Palace for a few hours.
“We brought a whole town to their feet. For the past two weeks, all they’ve been talking about is La Cañada High basketball,” Hofman said.
Holle said that kind of support has been key to the team’s success throughout the postseason, after finishing the game with seven points and six assists.
“Our crowd has been amazing this year. This was practically a home game for us,” Holle said.
La Verne’s (26-5) length and defensive scheme threw off La Cañada’s offense. McGlashan and Matt Faber scored all but 12 of La Cañada’s points, putting up 19 and 14 points, respectively, for La Cañada.
The Trojans threw several different looks at the Spartans’ offense, including a zone, trap and box-one defenses The Spartans also had to deal with three players that were 6 feet 7 or taller.
The length gave La Verne a 29-16 advantage on the boards, and altered La Cañada’s shots all game.
The Spartans were just 16.7% (two for 12) behind the three-point line, after relying on long-range buckets all season.
Four of La Verne’s players, English (Loyola Marymount), Carl Cooper Jr. (University of Texas El Paso), Grant Jerrett and Eric Cooper Jr. (University of Arizona), are also going to be playing basketball at major universities.
Jerrett was La Verne’s backbone all game, scoring 22 points (10 in the fourth quarter) and bringing down eight rebounds. English finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
Still, the Trojans knew top-seeded La Cañada was not to be taken lightly. The Spartans defeated Price for the CIF Southern Section Division III-AA championship, after Price had defeated La Verne, 63-58, in the semifinals.
“This is one of the toughest teams we’ve faced this year,” said La Verne Coach Eric Cooper, father of Eric Cooper Jr. and uncle of Carl Cooper Jr. “You have to really think when you play these guys because they can embarrass you.”
Eric Cooper knew that to win, they’d have to shut down McGlashan late.
“[McGlashan] is incredible. He can score one-on-one with anybody,” Eric Cooper said.
All week, Eric Cooper had his team practicing a box-and-one defense so McGlashan would have one-on-one opportunities. He saved that look when he needed it most, in the fourth quarter, and it effectively shut down La Cañada’s primary scorer.
Hofman said the disappointing end to the year doesn’t ruin the season’s incredible story.
“No doubt this is one of, if not the best team, in the school’s history,” Hofman said.