LAKE FOREST – On its way to the CIF Southern Section Division I-A semifinals, the Crescenta Valley High boys' basketball team had overcome bad shooting nights a number of times.
Whether it was defense that picked them up or they got hot in the second half, the Falcons seemed to have a knack for doing so. But after falling behind by double digits early in a road semifinal game against top-seeded El Toro, that uncanny ability was nowhere to be found in a 68-38 loss.
“We hit the double whammy where our offense was absolutely horrible, as far as being able to make stops, and defensively we couldn't contain them,” said CV Coach Shawn Zargarian, whose team shot 21 percent (12 of 58) from the floor in the game, while the Chargers shot 50 percent (19 of 38).
Cole Currie finished with a team-high 15 points, shooting 40 percent (six of 15) from the floor and 30 percent from three-point land (three of nine), for the fourth-seeded Falcons. Like the rest of his teammates, few if any easy shots came easy for Currie, with no other CV player scoring more than eight points.
El Toro Coach Todd Dixon, whose team ran a matchup zone that focused on Currie, said it was the best defensive game his team has played all year, as his team held CV to 20 percent shooting (six of 30) in the first half.
“Defensively, we were fantastic,” he said, “to only give up 38 points to that team is really nice. I thought we did a good job on Cole Currie, he's a hell of a player.”
Both Dixon and Zargarian highlighted the opening to the second half as a key in the game.
Crescenta Valley's defense managed to rally in the third quarter after going into the halftime down, 33-19. El Toro (27-5) didn't score in the opening 3:40 of the second half, but the Falcons (23-8) managed just one point on an Eric Patten (six points, 11 rebounds) free throw in that span.
“We came out in the third quarter and stopped them for about three-and-a-half minutes, but we couldn't capitalize by scoring,” Zargarian said. “We didn't take bad shots, but I think we took hurried shots.”
It was El Toro's Tanner Aguera who ended the stalemate with a three-pointer off an inbounds play. It sparked a 10-2 El Toro run, with Aguera hitting another three in that span, for the Chargers. The spurt pushed the home team's lead to 43-22 with 2:37 to go in the third.
Aguera was a nuisance to CV all night. The marksman came off the bench to score a game-high 20 points on seven of nine shooting, six of eight from three, and always seemed to provide momentum stoppers for the home team.
“He's a great spark plug off the bench; he can shoot it,” Dixon said. “We have guys that can make threes and some guys that can put it on the floor and we share the ball so well. When you share the ball, it's hard to guard.”
Things got off to an awful start for Crescenta Valley, as it found itself in a 12-point hole, 20-8, at the end of the first quarter. Both sides played to two quick ties before the Chargers erupted with a 15-0 run to take a 20-5 lead with 40 seconds left in the opening frame.
In the middle of the run, CV's second-best scorer Nick Springer had to sit down when he drew his second foul 4:25 into the contest.
“You just can't do that against good teams, they'll kill you and that's what happened,” said Currie, who had five points on two-of-eight shooting in the first half, of the bad start. “We came out slow and didn't execute on offense, defense and that's what happens. You play a good team and they'll beat you down.”
With Springer on the bench, the Falcons began to chip away at El Toro's lead.
Crescenta Valley's Kris Jabourian (eight points) started it off when he hit a three-pointer off a pass from Currie, who had just five points in the first half, with seven seconds to go in the first quarter.
Crescenta Valley managed to bring the deficit to seven, 25-18, behind five points from Jabourian, a three from Berj Krikorian and pull-up jumper from Currie with 6:10 left in the half before El Toro (27-7) extended its advantage to 15, 33-18, with an 8-0 spurt capped off by a Tanner Aguera three.
Down, 48-25, with 10 minutes to play, the Falcons looked for a miracle comeback.
Crescenta Valley began its finest run offensively with 1:06 to play in the third quarter on a reverse layup from Patten. Currie added an elbow jumper with 45 seconds to go in the frame to cut the lead to 48-29 heading into the fourth.
Currie began charging up the floor and hoisting threes in the fourth and nailed two from long distance in the first 45 seconds of the quarter to bring CV within 14, 49-35.
Aguera answered with his sixth three – a backbreaker with 6:35 to play.
“We ran into a buzzsaw tonight and got our tails kicked,” Zargarian said. “I will never look back on this game and remember our team from this game. Our team's accomplished a lot this year.”
This marked the second year in a row the Falcons put together a 20-win season, a second-place finish in the Pacific League and advanced to the semifinals and state playoffs, which Zargarian said he confirmed earlier Tuesday.
“I am pretty sure another CV team hasn't done that in back-to-back seasons,” Zargarian said. “I know it's hard when you walk away from this and it's going to sting for awhile, but we'll never remember this as what this team was about and what they did. I'm really proud of them, it's a lot to look at.”
Added Currie: “I don't think I've ever been more proud to be apart of any team I've been on. Nobody thought we'd be here, nobody thought we'd be in this game, come in second in league and do the things we did. I've never been more proud.”