Spartans come together in win

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — A look at the stat book may have suggested a different result in the La Cañada and South Pasadena high girls' basketball game Tuesday night.

The Tigers executed their game plan and contained Courtney Chen — the Spartans' most dynamic scorer — to seven points, but still fell to La Cañada, 48-31, in a Rio Hondo League game.

“If you had told me Courtney was only going to score seven points against South Pas and we’d win by 17, I would have said, ‘I don’t think so,’” La Cañada Coach Tamar Hill said.

South Pasadena Coach Rick Kitagawa felt good about how his team kept Chen in check, as well.

“That was our thing, we wanted to stop Courtney,” Kitagawa said. “We knew if we stopped her we had a chance. We did OK in the first half, but in the second half a lot of our injuries and illnesses caught up with us.”

The Spartans (15-10, 7-2 in league) had five players — Chen (seven rebounds), Mary Peck (10 points), Lauren Barsamian (nine points, 10 rebounds, three steals), Sydney Zarate (eight points, eight rebounds), Keilee Bessho (seven points, three steals) — with at least seven points.

Zarate's buckets were the biggest, as she hit back-to-back jumpers (the second coming with 2:35 to go in the game) to give her team a 40-31 lead.

“I felt like it gave us a little motivation,” Zarate said. “We relaxed and had the lead and all we had to do was slow down, run our offense and play defense.”

The Spartans did just that as South Pasadena's Kelsey Nakamura, who had a game-high 11 points, tried to bring her team back when she fired a three-pointer on the next trip up the floor that went in and out before being rebounded by Chen with 1:36 to go.

A Tigers foul seven seconds later put Peck at the line as she sealed the game with two free throws, putting the score at 42-31.

“What kept us in that was our defense,” said Hill, whose team forced five fourth-quarter turnovers. “We struggled to make shots in the first half, but played good defense and clamped down as much as we could. Defense led to offense on the other end of the court.”

The win creates a showdown for the Rio Hondo League title Thursday as La Cañada travels to Monrovia at 5:15 p.m.

“Either we get a league title and go into playoffs on a great winning streak or not,” Hill said. “The hope is we can keep up this momentum and we want to be hitting our stride at this time of the year, like we are, and not working on fixing things.”

La Cañada took its first lead Tuesday with 2:45 to go in the third quarter when Barsamian converted an and-one opportunity off a pass from Chen for a 29-26 lead.

The Tigers (16-9, 5-4) knotted the game at 29 on Amber Partida’s buzzer-beating three, off a steal from Sara Jan.

The Spartans shook it off as Bessho hit a three of her own one minute and 15 seconds into the fourth for a 32-29 lead.

Bessho grabbed a steal on South Pas’ ensuing possession and threw it upcourt to a streaking Chen, who laid it in for a five-point lead with 6:30 left.

“It was just a good team effort, they really pulled it together,” Hill said. “What I am pleased with most is we put together a really good fourth quarter, and we did it against San Marino, too. What that tells me is our team is getting mentally tough.”

The Tigers got the score back down to three, 34-31, on a running layup from Partida (six points) with 4:30 to go, but the Spartans kept their distance on a rebound and put back from Barsamian.

South Pas’ Lexie Scholtz and Sophia Hathaway finished with six points and 10 rebounds, respectively.

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