When opposing teams see that the La Cañada High girls' basketball team starts a sophomore and a freshman, they might think they will be able to exploit the youngsters' inexperience.
But sophomore Courtney Chen and freshman Keilee Bessho don't play scared and they are not easily intimidated. In fact, they play more like wily veterans.
The pair played major roles for the No. 7 Spartans Saturday in their CIF Southern Section Division 3-A second-round playoff game against No. 10 Corona del Mar. Chen and Bessho combined for 14 of La Cañada's 17 points in the fourth quarter and the Spartans held off a late comeback attempt to notch a 56-49 victory at home.
The Spartans (16-11), who had a bye in the first round, advanced to the quarterfinal round. They will take on No. 2 Corona on the road at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Despite having an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter, La Cañada — which had two players foul out late in the final stanza — was able to stave off a torrid comeback attempt by the Sea Queens, who cut the deficit to six points with 1:19 left.
"It was hard," Spartans Coach Tamar Hill said of the game that turned into a foul-fest late. "We just don't have players foul out and we had two tonight. I can't even remember the last time we had a girl foul out. That just kind of shows you where things were at with this game."
Bessho was one of the players who fouled out after tallying 14 points, six of which came in the fourth quarter. Chen finished with 19 points, including an eight-point effort — including making all five of her free-throw attempts — in the fourth. She also had three steals.
La Cañada, the runner-up from the Rio Hondo League, also received an inspired effort from junior Lauren Barsamian, who had 14 points to go along with 11 rebounds and four steals.
The Spartans came out a bit rusty against Corona del Mar (11-17), an at-large team from the Pacific Coast League. La Cañada suffered with some shooting difficulties in the early going, resulting in just a 15-10 lead after the first quarter.
"With the bye we had a week off, and that was the longest time we had off without a game throughout the season," Hill said. "We didn't even have that many days off during holiday break. I think that definitely might have caused us to be slow early on."
In the second quarter, the Spartans converted just three of seven free-throw attempts and were three of eight from the field. Luckily for the hosts, the Sea Queens were two of eight and four of 14 in the same areas. That resulted in a 27-19 La Cañada lead at the half.
The Spartans played better in the second half, converting their shots and taking advantage of eight Corona del Mar turnovers to take an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter, 39-27.
La Cañada appeared to have things under control in the fourth. When Barsamian scored on a layup with 4:49 left, the Spartans had an 18-point cushion, 51-33.
But the Sea Queens, paced by 12 fourth-quarter points by senior Melanie DeArakal, kept chipping away at the lead. DeArakal drained a three-pointer with just over a minute left to bring her team within six, 55-49.
However, the Spartans kept Corona del Mar at bay the rest of the way.