SOUTH PASADENA — For the first time in 2014, the La Cañada High girls’ basketball team suffered a defeat.
The Spartans were riding a nine-game winning streak and had won 12 of the last 14 coming into their Rio Hondo League matchup with South Pasadena, a team they beat by 25 points at home on Jan. 15.
It was the lone setback in league play for the Tigers, who looked to have extra motivation in the second and final regular season meeting between the two squads on Friday evening at South Pasadena High School.
Ultimately, South Pasadena’s must-win situation coupled with La Cañada’s slow start proved to be two major catalysts in the Spartans falling, 66-58.
“It’s their gym and a big game for them,” said Spartans Coach Tamar Hill, whose team is now tied atop the Rio Hondo League standings with South Pasadena at 5-1. “First time around, we beat them by a lot and I was telling one of my coaches that as far as adjustments, there was not a whole lot for us. They had a whole lot more to look at and they took advantage.”
Hill’s Spartans were led by Courtney Chen’s 16 points, but it was a loose ball at the 2:04 mark of the fourth quarter that resulted in an ankle injury for the senior guard, and possibly a sleepless night for the head coach who took over the program in 2000.
“What I take away from this game is hoping that Courtney’s ankle is OK,” said Hill, who led the Spartans to the Rio Hondo League championship and the CIF semifinals last season. “That’s more important in the long run than a cold night from the field.”
Chen missed the season opener with a concussion. The Spartans (18-4, 5-1) were dealt the same injury coming into the contest with South Pasadena (13-5, 5-1), with junior center Haley Miller missing the game with a concussion.
Still, aside from the slow start that resulted in an 18-6 Tigers lead after one quarter of play, the Spartans played tough throughout the league game and bounced back from the forgettable first eight-minute frame to outscore South Pasadena, 24-17, in the second quarter, sparked by three three-pointers — two from Chen, who led the team with 10 first-half points.
Sarah Kurdoghlian put in seven of her 12 points in the second, including five unanswered to bring the Spartans within five at 35-30 going into halftime.
South Pasadena, however, which had made 12 of 24 field-goal attempts in the first half, carried the hot shooting into the third quarter, highlighted by Elise Takahama’s 13 points, including three from behind the arc, which aided in the Tigers responding to La Cañada’s run late in the first half and leading by as many as 16 points in the third en route to the victory.
A three-pointer from Alyssa Miller cut the Tigers’ lead down to three earlier in the frame, but South Pasadena responded with two of its own, fueling a 10-2 run that put them up by double digits again at 48-37.
“First game was rough,” said Tigers Coach Tammy Lai, whose team has won five in a row. ”We couldn’t hit a shot and they took it to us. We didn’t box out or locate shooters and those were mistakes we couldn’t make again. We knew La Cañada would battle and not give us anything.”
Takahama led the Tigers with 18 points — all in the second half. As a team, South Pasadena received balanced scoring with 14 points apiece from Lexie Scholtz and Sophia Hathaway, as well as 13 points from Jalynne Li.
Both teams cooled off in the fourth quarter, combining for five field goals. Ultimately, the lead garnered in the third quarter proved insurmountable for La Cañada in the fourth.
“They shot the ball well and we didn’t make shots,” Hill said. “We came out ice cold and couldn’t make our free throws. If you look at the scoreboard that would put a dent in the differential and make it a different game.”