LA CRESCENTA — Upon the conclusion of the first three quarters of Monday evening's Pacific League girls' basketball tilt, Glendale High was leading each and every time.
But as the Nitros' rebounding edge began to wane and a short-lived free-throw battle went heavily in the favor of host Crescenta Valley, it was Falcons Coach Jason Perez who was breathing a sigh of relief and Glendale Coach Tania Adary who was clearly frustrated.
Off a brilliant pass by Ella Stepanian, who scored eight fourth-quarter points including going four-for-four from the line, Sydney Cummings scored the game-winner before Stepanian wrapped up a 41-37 Crescenta Valley win with two free throws in the final seconds.
"It was a tough game. The girls had to will their way to a win," said Perez, whose team improved to 12-8, 4-4 in league despite trailing, 28-23, with 2:22 left in the third quarter. "They didn't play well, they didn't play their best, but we found a way to win."
For Glendale (9-10, 3-5), it was a far different story, as it lost its sixth game of the season by four points or less, including a 38-35 loss against CV on Jan. 3.
"It's just been a broken record for us," Adary said. "We're in a position to close it out and we've probably finished like one of the last nine times we've had that chance [dating back to last year].
"I really thought we would step up."
For the better part of three quarters, the Nitros did step up and, in contrast, Stepanian was being shut down, but she came through in the fourth quarter.
"As a good player, you step up in the fourth quarter, and she did," Adary said.
Stepanian, who had two points and two rebounds at halftime, finished with 11 points and six rebounds. It was a Stepanian jumper with 4:16 to go in the game that brought CV to within 34-33 before her layup with 3:40 left gave the Falcons their first lead of the game since the they were ahead 4-2 early in the opening stanza.
Glendale answered right back, however, as Kristineh Zadorian buried a triple at the 3:18 mark to go back up, 37-35. It was the last time the Nitros would score.
Stepanian, a sophomore forward, tied the game with 2:22 to go on a pair of free throws before bringing the ball up and finding a wide-open Cummings for her only basket of the game.
"[Stepanian] had a bad game the whole game, but fourth quarter ... she stepped it up big time," said Perez, who added that Stepanian was also playing sick.
Falcons senior forward Samira Seraji was consistent throughout, though, scoring a game-high 16 points to go with four rebounds and three steals.
"[She] was good the whole game," Perez said. "She played unbelievable."
Senior point guard Catherine Davis added eight points.
For Glendale, Tara Abdul-Ahad had nine points, all on three-pointers, Zadourian also had nine, Erlin Keshishzadeh added eight points and 10 rebounds and Nina Sahakian had seven points and 10 boards. The Nitros were once again without starting senior Michelle Tomasian, who has a leg injury and had an MRI on Monday with results pending.
Glendale owned a 20-6 rebounding edge in the first half and, consequently, an 18-14 halftime advantage.
"And then we forgot what to do in the second half," Adary said.
The Falcons crept back into the game after Marissa Deciga's layup gave her Nitros a 28-23 lead in the third. Crescenta Valley, which had shot just four free throws previously in the game, scored its next four points from the charity stripe to cut the tally to 28-27 heading into the fourth.
In the end, CV made 11 of 14 foul shots, with Stepanian sinking all four of her team's in the fourth, while Glendale shot a dismal five of 11 from the line and two of seven in the telling last quarter — missing all of their last five. That included a one-and-one with the team down, 39-37, with 6.6 seconds left. Stepanian secured the subsequent rebound and was fouled before sinking the game-clinching foul shots.
"[The Nitros] got to every loose ball, they were out hustling us [in the first half]," Perez said. "In the second half, we didn't let them out hustle us.
"The defensive rebounding improved and we started to attack the basket and get to the line."
Glendale, which won the overall rebounding battle, 35-22, but was out rebounded, 16-15, in the second half, didn't help matters with a 14-for-49 (28%) night shooting from the field, either.
"We had open looks we couldn't finish, we missed layups," Adary said.
And the prospects of Glendale missing out on an automatic playoff berth by securing one of the league's top four spots also continue to dwindle. Nonetheless, the Nitros did get word of a forfeit win on Monday, as Pasadena High forfeited three wins — against Muir, Glendale and Burroughs — due to playing with an ineligible player.
So, as it stands, Glendale, which is tied for sixth place in league, will take on sixth-place Pasadena at home on Wednesday, while CV, which has won two in a row and is in a three-way tie for third in league with Burroughs and Arcadia, will host Burroughs.