LOS ANGELES — Thanks to some timely offense and steely resolve, the Crescenta Valley High boys' basketball capped its nonleague season with a shiny bow Wednesday evening.
The Falcons fought off a few comeback attempts from visiting Long Beach Millikan High to pick up a 78-65 victory in the gold bracket championship game of the D1 Bound Southern California Christmas Classic at Cathedral High.
"We tried hard not to over hype the game so that we wouldn't play out of sorts," Crescenta Valley Coach Shawn Zargarian said. "I wanted us to play together, play with composure and our kids did a phenomenal job.
"They played well through the ups and downs of the game and I couldn't be prouder."
Six Falcons (10-3) scored seven or more points, led by senior Gabe Ajemian, who finished with a game-high 19 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Crescenta Valley started the fourth quarter up, 57-50, and immediately expanded that lead to double digits on an inside basket from Ajemian and a free throw from Journey Shank (seven points) with 6:04 left in the game.
While Millikan's Justin Chambers countered with a bucket to pull his team within 60-52 with 5:14 left, the Rams (10-3) never cut their deficit to less than seven points the rest of the contest.
Millikan, which only hit of 10 of 21 (48%) free throws, also had to watch Crescenta Valley hit 17 of 22 free throws in the fourth quarter to swell its lead. Prior to the fourth quarter, the Falcons had shot three total free throws.
"It's interesting because we were in a 2-3 zone and they're in a full-court, three-quarter-court trap and we were getting called for hand checks and they weren't," Zargarian said. "Hey, we got them when they mattered."
In a seesaw contest, it was a series of runs that defined Crescenta Valley's victory.
The Falcons responded to an early 6-5 deficit with a 17-9 run capped on an offensive put back by Koko Kechichian with 49 seconds left in the first quarter that put the Falcons up, 22-15. Millikan answered with two free throws from Mason Dickerson (15 points) to close the quarter down, 22-17.
"We just had to go and push it," said Kechichian, who tallied nine points and 10 rebounds. "We tried to push the tempo and build these runs so that when they scored, we had enough of a lead not to give up the lead."
In the second quarter, Millikan rallied and took a brief 30-28 lead on an inside basket from Ofure Ujadughele, who struggled with foul trouble all game before fouling out with under a minute left in the contest.
Millikan's lead, which came with 2:15 left in the second quarter, was short-lived as the Falcons countered with a 10-0 run fueled by a pair of threes from Trey Ballard (11 points) to take a 38-30 advantage into the break.
In the third quarter, the Falcons saw their lead cut to 38-36 before a three from Shank, a free thrown from Arin Ovanessian and an offensive rebound and score from Chris Reik gave the Falcons a 44-36 lead with 4:16 left in the quarter.
"We wanted to win, but it's like coach said in the locker room before the game, this was like any other game," said Ovanessian, who finished with 11 points and four assists. "We expected to make it to the finals. We just came out and played like any other game."
Millikan's Christian Masing led his team in defeat with 18 points.
Tadeh Tarverdians added 16 points for the Falcons, who begin Pacific League play on Tuesday against Burroughs (10-2).