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Sparkling defensive effort powers La Cañada girls’ basketball to tournament title

LA CAÑADA — With the calendar year coming to an end, the La Cañada High girls’ basketball team had an opportunity to finish 2019 on a high note by winning the championship game of the Spartans’ own tournament against Hamilton.

That is just what they did.

Behind a dominant defensive performance, the Spartans defeated the Yankees, 44-25, in the final of the 13th Annual La Cañada New Year’s Ball Tournament on Monday.

“I think our defense tonight was smothering. I would say that was a good word [to describe it],” La Cañada coach Owen Keenan said. “Defense was our focus and having it be one-and-done [limiting Hamilton] to one shot. They did as they were told and they did a great job.”

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La Cañada (9-8) was led by Emmie Lew, who scored a team-high 20 points in the championship game. As a result, the senior guard was named the most valuable player, earning a plaque.

“We knew we had to play Hamilton and we knew they were really physical,” Lew said. “I’m glad we delivered on all the things our coach wanted us to do. We played a really good game.”

Spartans Lauren Scoville also took home some hardware, being named to the all-tournament team. In the championship contest, the junior had four points, two assists, a game-high 17 rebounds and seven blocks.

“[It helped on defense] when we went into the two-three,” Scoville said. “It really helped just getting the rebounds because we are a smaller team. All of us just working to get the rebounds really helped on our defense.”

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La Cañada also got 13 points and five rebounds from Bethany Co, who sank three shots from beyond the arc in the opening quarter. Freshman Mia Oakley-Stilson was the final Spartan to score by contributing seven points, while pulling down 11 rebounds. Senior Annie Abnous did not score, but made her presence felt with eight rebounds.

“We were really focused on rebounds,” said Lew, who had four. “I think [early] we were kind of struggling, but by the end we got the rebounding game going.”

Hamilton (11-4) scored the first five points of the contest before La Cañada’s defense kicked into gear. Yankees Kennedee Rankin scored all five of those points on the way to a team-high 10 points and a spot on the all-tournament team.

The run ended with 6:54 left in the first quarter, after which La Cañada scored the final 17 points of the stanza to hold a 17-5 advantage going into the second quarter.

The Spartans’ scoring streak was broken at 19-0 by a Yankees free throw for the visitors’ only point of the second quarter. This meant Hamilton, a Division I school from the L.A. City Section, went 11:57 without scoring in the face of an unrelenting La Cañada defense.

The hosts led 25-6 at halftime.

With 6:47 left in the third quarter, Rankin scored on a put-back to make it 28-8. Before this bucket, the Spartans held the Yankees for 16:07 without a field goal. Lew made one of three free throws with 2:29 left in the quarter for a 23-point cushion, which was the largest margin.

After that, Hamilton made three three-pointers down the stretch to pull to within 35-19 going into the fourth quarter.

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The Yankees, a member of the Western League, hit a three for the first points of the fourth to close to within 13. However, Oakley-Stilson soon drained her only three-pointer of the contest.

La Cañada finished on a 9-2 scoring run to stay comfortably ahead.

“Every tournament we’ve played [in] we have played better,” said Keenan, who is in his second year. “It’s always nice to end that way, especially if it is in your own tournament.”


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