After struggling through the regular season, the La Cañada High girls' basketball team shined when it counted, in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA playoffs.
The unranked Spartans were underdogs coming into their first-round game against St. Lucy's, which was ranked 15 in the division. But that didn't stop them from pulling off the upset, stunning the Regents on their home court and dominating the game from the opening tip-off in 52-40 victory.
"We didn't really care what people said about who was favored or who wasn't," Spartans' senior Kristene Hossepian said. "We just went in there and thought it was a regular game — played our hardest and ended up on top."
Unfortunately for La Cañada (8-20), its magic ran out on the road Saturday night against Bishop Montgomery (20-9). The Knights were ready for the Spartans and weren't about to be shocked at home, rolling to a 73-31 win.
The second-round defeat doesn't detract from the Spartan's eye-opening victory in the first-round.
"Obviously, it feels amazing, especially for me as a senior," Hossepian said. "The greatest feeling as a senior is to know you can go out there and depend on your team to make the season as long as possible."
Defense was La Cañada's first-round game-changer. The Regents (15-11) fell behind early, losing the first quarter. 12-4. Sarah Borland was responsible for the Spartans' first eight points.
St. Lucy's also dropped the third quarter, 15-2.
"Our defense came out and shocked them in the beginning of the game and only allowed two points in the third quarter. Then it goes into desperation time for them," La Cañada Coach Tamar Hill said.
Big efforts from Hossepian, Cailan Howey and several bench players for the Spartans gave La Cañada the edge. Hossepian hit several big shots throughout the game to keep momentum with La Cañada. She finished the game with 12 points (two of three from three-point range), six rebounds, five assists and two steals. Howey was a "monster on the boards," Hill said. She finished the contest with team-highs in points (14), rebounds (18) and steals (seven).
"I think it was just playoffs. We wanted to prove to everyone that we belonged in the top 16 in our division," said Howey, explaining the team's elevated play.
The only quarter La Cañada lost was the fourth quarter, 22-7. But St. Lucy's had too large of a hill to climb, entering the final quarter down, 45-18.
St. Lucy's Nicole Zugasti (13 points and eight rebounds) and Savannah Selby (10 points) started heating up a little bit late, combining for six points in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 49-36 with just over a minute left. But Courtney Chen stepped to the line and put a stamp on the win, converting three of her free throws.
Micaela Anderson had a big role off the bench with Alexa and Lauren Barsamian unavailable to play. Anderson held Zugasti in check, pulling down seven rebounds.
"You could just see [Zugasti's] body language change when I put Micaela in. She moves so well and she did a great job playing big and getting in [Zugasti's] head," Hill said. "Our bench did a great job tonight, especially in foul trouble. They all contributed and all hit shots. It was really a team win."