IRVINE — The La Cañada High boys’ basketball team did all it could to advance to a CIF Southern Section championship.
The Spartans rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to force two overtime periods, had a player convert four consecutive three-pointers in the final quarter to pull to within four points and had another player knock down one of the biggest shots in program history.
That’s what La Cañada had to accomplish against host Crean Lutheran in a Division II-A semifinal Saturday.
The Spartans trailed by 15 points in the third quarter before senior Ryan Graves knocked down four three-pointers in a row.
Then, with just 11.2 seconds left in regulation, La Cañada senior Noah Ford, who broke his wrist before the season started, knocked down a three-pointer and was fouled for a four-point play that forced the semifinal into overtime.
If that wasn’t enough, the Spartans withstood a hot-shooting Crean Lutheran team to advance to their first division final since 2011 with a 77-74 double-overtime victory.
La Cañada will meet No. 1 Colony (26-5) in the championship game at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Azusa Pacific University. Colony registered a 74-54 semifinal victory against fourth-seeded Crescenta Valley on Saturday.
“They kept fighting back,” said La Cañada coach Tom Hofman, whose team is the No. 3 seed. “They didn’t give up and in the second overtime they didn’t give up and kept playing. I’m really proud of their effort. Ryan Graves was phenomenal, but the whole team played a really great game.
“What I liked was we made some shots and we weren’t hitting them early. I liked the way they attacked the zone, but what I really liked was the way they just wouldn’t give up. They just kept playing. I like their character and their heart.”
The Saints stormed to a 51-36 lead with 3:46 left in the third after a three-point streak from senior Chris Swardstrom, who had 13 points in the quarter.
The Spartans (27-5; Rio Hondo League champions), which never led at any point in regulation, went on an 11-0 run at 6:07 in the final quarter to trail, 57-55, backed by three three pointers from Graves.
“They were on fire in the second half and the first half,” Graves said. “We tried to start getting something going when it looked like they were hitting shot after shot.
“After that, I tried to get myself going the best I could and I got a couple good looks, got going, got hot and felt good shooting with confidence. It’s pretty easy right there.”
With 2:30 left, Graves knocked down another three to make it a 62-58 lead for Crean Lutheran (18-14; Empire League runner-up).
Ford hit a three from the right corner with seconds left and was fouled on the attempt. He made the free throw to tie the score at 62 and send the game to overtime.
“I’m just glad I made it,” Ford said. “We wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for Ryan. We were down by 12. I just made one shot. He did most of the work to get us there. I just had to shoot it.
“We just knew we had to get stops and then, from there, our offense will flow. We’ve been a good shooting team all year, we just needed to let it fly.”
Graves finished with 26 points with eight three-points, while Ford scored 12 points, five of which came in the first, overtime.
Spartans senior Zach Feehan scored 17 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked five shots, while junior Kyle Brown recorded 12 points and four steals.
Swardstrom finished with 18 points, and the Saints were led by junior Drew Yezbak with 21 points.
Crean Lutheran junior guard Aiden Gilbert scored 11 points, three of which sent the game to a second overtime.
“We were just trying to get stop after stop,” Graves said. “I hit those five threes, but if we don’t get those stops, my points don’t matter. The whole team came together and got stop after stop and points when we took the lead.
“We really controlled the momentum once we got to overtime and that was huge for us.”
Though the Spartans fell to a 7-0 deficit in the first quarter, their size in the post helped slow down the Saints as the period went on. Feehan blocked three shots and Graves scored five points in the frame, but La Cañada trailed, 14-9, at the end of the first.
Crean Lutheran opened the second quarter with a 6-0 run to establish a 20-9 lead. Graves and Feehan, again, combined on both the offensive and defensive ends to bully the Saints and set up an 11-2 run to cut the host’s lead to 22-20.
The teams traded shots to go into halftime, as Crean Lutheran had a 28-24 advantage at the break.
In the overtime, the Spartans took a 66-62 lead, aided by a three-pointer from Ford.
A pair of free throws from Ryan Grande made it a 68-62 Spartans lead. But a few free throws and a three-pointer from Saints senior Jon Scherer cut the lead to 70-68 with 53 seconds left.
Free throws from Gilbert tied it at 70 and sent the game to a second overtime.
Brown opened the second extra period with a drive down the lane to pull ahead, 72-70, before a Graves’ three-pointer set up a 75-72 advantage for the Spartans.
Feehan pulled down his 14th rebound with seconds left to call an end to the contest.
La Caðada has won two CIF championships. The Spartans were victorious in 1992 and 2011, both under Hofman, a former All-Area Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year.