SAN MARINO — The Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy basketball team hadn't reached the championship game of the South Pasadena Tournament in seven years.
So when the Tologs heard the final buzzer sound in Saturday night's championship game versus El Segundo, there was no surprise at the reaction of joy and excitement the girls showed when the trophy was finally theirs.
"This just shows how far we've come and how hard we've worked," Tologs Coach Gino Pacella said after his squad's title-clinching 55-50 victory at San Marino High. "To be able to pull out a victory like this says a lot."
Pacella showed patience through the early jitters that caused turnovers, lackadaisical defense, and missed open shots leading to an uphill climb.
But in the end, the Tologs prevailed despite the mishaps and El Segundo guard Lauren Sato's 32 points, which paved the way for the Eagles to maintain a lead throughout nearly the entirety of the first three quarters.
Unfortunately for Sato and her teammates, her onslaught of baskets will be an afterthought to her two key missed free throws with 20 seconds remaining in the contest followed by a turnover on the next possession.
The grueling finish concluded a fourth quarter befitting a championship game. The Eagles went into it leading by one, but a 10-0 run in the middle of the quarter gave the Tologs a 51-42 advantage that would not be relinquished.
It seemed to come out of nowhere, as the Eagles controlled most of the game prior to the momentum-shifting streak of baskets that came from inside, outside and the free-throw line.
"We lost some of our focus and, in a hard fought game like this, that's all it takes," Eagles Coach Kelly Geis said. "But our free throw shooting as a team killed us. If we make them, we're looking at a different outcome."
For a team that showed early trepidation, Sacred Heart made clutch free throws with under a minute left in the contest.
Leading by just one, Vanessa Romero made both of hers from the stripe, then Ivy Fitzgerald put the game away with her free throw that gave the Tologs a 54-50 advantage with less than 10 seconds remaining.
Throughout the game, however, the Tologs had a shining star of their own, Lana Haddad, who dominated inside, scoring 25 points before fouling out with 1:43 remaining in the game.
All-tournament first-team selection Stephanie Ramsden dropped in 10 points for Sacred Heart, including two from three-point territory.
"This is a big accomplishment," said Pacella. "It's something we will build on."