Locals prepare for final stretch run

GLENDALE — With the stretch run fast upon them, area basketball and soccer teams, coaches and players are nearing the ends of their respective league seasons with nailbiting times ahead.

Only the remainder of the this week and next week stand between the end of the season and the upcoming winter playoffs.

Only Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy soccer co-coaches Kathy Desmond and Frank Pace, along with Flintridge Prep boys’ basketball Coach Garrett O’Hara, can rest easy with league titles already clinched.

“It feels pretty good,” said Pace on Wednesday, shortly after his Tologs had clinched the program’s first-ever Mission League title. “It feels like I’m not gonna have to sweat this entire weekend.”

Sacred Heart still has two games remaining, as do O’Hara’s Rebels, but they’ve locked up a second straight Prep League title.

For many more, however, these last few remaining games will make or break league title reigns and playoff bids.

Perhaps nowhere else is the area scene closer than in boys’ soccer.

St. Francis High, ranked seventh in CIF Southern Section Division II, sits atop the Mission League with a 7-1-2 record (16 points) and a 13-3-4 overall mark.

Clearly, the Golden Knights’ shot at repeating as league champions comes down to its final two matches against fellow league heavyweights Loyola (5-1-3 in league, 13 points) and Crespi (5-1-3, 13 points).

“We need to come out with energy,” said St. Francis Coach Glen Appels, who credited a slow start as a major reason the Golden Knights lost to Loyola, 3-1, in the teams’ first meeting. “We’ve been playing well as of late. We just have to come out playing like we can.”

Should the Golden Knights win out, a league title is theirs, but, of course, that’s easier said than done.

“On the other side of that, if things don’t go your way, all of a sudden you could end up in fourth place,” Appels said.

The top four finishers in the seven-team league advance, but placement is crucial in the Division I playoffs.

With second-place Harvard-Westlake (5-1-4, 14 points) facing off with Crespi today, as well, it’s clear that this will be a day that shakes up the league standings.

“Every game, now, is crucial,” Appels said. “It all depends on what happens in other games.”

The Pacific League soccer season is no less jumbled up.

“I think it’s gonna come down to the very end,” Glendale Coach Tulio Marroquin said earlier this season. “I think whoever wants it the most is gonna get it.”

Marroquin might very well have prognosticated truth.

His Nitros (6-5-10, 3-2-6, 12 points) are currently on the outside looking in, as Crescenta Valley (7-3-6, 5-1-5, 15 points) and Pasadena (5-1-5) are locked in a first place tie, with defending champion Burroughs (5-2-4, 14 points) and Burbank (6-3-2, 14 points) tied for third. Even Muir (4-6-1, nine points) is still technically in the picture and, perhaps, most responsible for the logjam after forfeiting four previous games due to an ineligible player.

Glendale travels to face Muir today, while Crescenta Valley is at Burroughs.

The Falcons finish with Burbank and Arcadia next week, while Glendale faces Arcadia and Hoover, the only teams eliminated from the race.

Still, with Pasadena, Burbank and Burroughs all playing on grass fields, there’s a possibility, due to recent storms, that the league won’t go final until Saturday, Feb. 14.

Scenarios also abound for Flintridge Prep’s boys’ team, which even after having defeated first-place Chadwick for its first win of the season on Wednesday, still has a shot at the postseason.

“We could still make the playoffs believe it or not,” said Rebels Coach Esteban Chavez, whose team is 1-8-4 overall and 1-2-2 in the Prep League. “We’ve won one game all year and we can still make the playoffs.”

The Rebels could still actually win the league title, but are realistically hoping to win their finale next week against Webb and get some help from Chadwick beating Webb and Pasadena Poly.

Chavez, who also coaches the school’s girls’ team, has that squad in third place with a 4-4 league mark. The Rebels face second-place Westridge (4-2-1 in league) today at the Glendale Sports Complex.

While there’s still a shot at second for Prep, a more realistic goal is fending off Mayfield and Poly for the last automatic spot.

“We’re just hoping to make the playoffs,” said Chavez, whose team has remaining games against Westridge today and at Poly on Tuesday.

Crescenta Valley’s girls’ team has assured itself of making the playoffs, running off an 11-0 Pacific League record.

But the Falcons, ranked eighth in CIF Southern Section Division II, are coming off a sub-par 3-1 win against Hoover with Burroughs to play today before facing off against third-place Burbank on Tuesday and against archrival Arcadia on Thursday.

The Apaches are just a victory behind the Falcons, meaning the league title comes down to next week.

“It worries me,” said Falcons Coach Reggie Rivas of his team’s win on Wednesday against Hoover. “The name of the game is putting the ball in the net. We have struggled at times with that.”

But as for struggling with looking past Burroughs today or even past league and into the playoffs, Rivas isn’t worried.

“We haven’t clinched anything,” he said. “I’m not really worried about them looking over [any team] ... it’s more staying focused for the full 80 minutes.”

Crescenta Valley’s girls’ basketball squad isn’t quite as fortunate to be sitting atop the Pacific League, but with powerhouse Muir in girls’ basketball and perennial CIF contender Pasadena in boys’ basketball, the Pacific League basketball scene is usually about who will finish second.

For both Falcons programs, that’s the goal.

“Right now, we’re basically fighting for second, third and fourth,” said Falcons Coach Shawn Zargarian of his team, along with Burbank, which is second with an 8-3 league mark, and Burroughs, which is tied with Crescenta Valley for third at 7-4.

With Muir three games behind in fifth, all four of the top seeds have clinched playoff berths.

But for Zargarian and the Falcons, the higher in the standings the better.

Standing in their way tonight is a red-hot Burroughs team that had won five straight games before losing to Pasadena on Wednesday, 56-48.

“Burroughs has been playing really good basketball,” said Zargarian, who believes his team must slow down the Indians’ transition game and hold their three-point shooters in check in the hopes of duplicating a 40-38 win in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 16. “It’s gonna come down to us being able to stop them and their offensive punch.”

And the Falcons’ league standing will no doubt come down to another big matchup with Burbank on Tuesday and their league finale against rival Arcadia.

“These next two games are absolutely huge for where we finish in league,” Zargarian said.

As far as at-large berths go, Renaissance Academy appears to be the only area boys’ team with a shot of doing that. Needing a .500 record or better to apply for an at-large bid for the CIF playoffs, the Wildcats (9-10) must pull off an upset against Community Charter (26-6) on Monday and fend off Ribet Academy (11-11) on Friday for a chance.

The all-of-a-sudden resurgent Nitros’ girls’ basketball team is in prime position for an at-large bid, but is still not out of contention for an automatic bid.

Glendale (10-9, 4-7) is two games behind fourth-place Burbank with three games to play.

Granted the Nitros play Muir today, but winning two of their last three will make them eligible for an at-large petition and, with some help, could put them in the top four.

“Every game’s a big game,” said Glendale Coach Tania Adary, whose team finishes with Arcadia and Hoover. “Lately, they look like they deserve [to make it the playoffs].”

The Nitros have won three in a row, having defeated Crescenta Valley, Burroughs and Burbank.

“Had they done that from the beginning, I think we would’ve been in a lot better shape,” Adary said. “Now we’ve gotta play every game like it’s our last.”

The aforementioned second-place Falcons are holding strong to their spot with an 8-3 league mark.

With games against Burroughs tonight and Burbank on Tuesday, wins in those contests will lock them into the position.

Flintridge Prep’s girls’ basketball team (12-10, 6-3), which is used to bringing home Prep League titles, finds itself, for all intents and purposes, locked into a likely third-place league finish.

With three league losses and both Chadwick and Pasadena Poly undefeated at 8-0, an eighth straight league title is out of the cards, but the playoffs are not. The Rebels hold a two-game lead over Westridge and a three-game lead over Rio Hondo Prep. With games remaining against Rio Hondo, which the Rebels beat, 73-39, already, and a winless Mayfield, the chances look good.

The CIF offices will release boys’ and girls’ basketball playoff pairings on Sunday, Feb. 15 between noon-2:50 p.m. Boys’ soccer pairings will come out the day after between noon-12:45 p.m., while girls’ soccer will be released that same day between 12:45 p.m.-1:30 p.m.

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