SAN MARINO — It was the final game of the regular season for the La Cañada High girls’ basketball team and it needed to finish with a victory to guarantee a repeat Rio Hondo League title.
Although the Spartans came into the finale tied atop the Rio Hondo with South Pasadena, the Tigers were finishing on the road against a winless Blair squad, which they beat by 74 points in the first meeting. Thus, anything less than a win for the Spartans would almost assuredly mean even a share of the league crown would be out of reach.
Standing in the way Thursday evening was host San Marino, but despite playing what Spartans Coach Tamar Hill labeled “an ugly game,” La Cañada overcame the Titans with relative ease to stake its claim to the Rio Hondo crown and repeat as league champion with a 58-31 win.
“It’s amazing,” Spartan Keilee Bessho said of wrapping a share of the title on Thursday. “It might have been ugly, but all together we did a great job. We worked really well this season. We practiced really hard. It’s amazing.”
La Cañada (21-5, 9-1) was led to victory by Bessho, who had a stellar all-around game and was key in the second quarter that saw the Spartans outscore San Marino (7-19, 4-6), 21-1.
“[Bessho] was just a monster. She had a double-double today. She came to play,” Hill said. “She really carried us through. Everyone else was kind of like a little slow on every step, not quite in position. ... It might as well have been the Keilee Bessho show.”
Bessho led all scorers with 18 points, including 12 in the second quarter after going scoreless in the first. This also meant she had outdistanced the home team, which trailed, 36-9, at half. All of the junior’s points came inside, as she tormented the Titans in the paint while going eight of 14 from the field.
“Honestly, it was more my teammates working really hard and I was just the one putting in the lay-ups. I give all props to them,” Bessho said.
The La Cañada guard also pulled down 12 rebounds, two steals, one assist and one block.
Senior guard Courtney Chen joined Bessho in double digits with 10 points. Senior forward Alyssa Miller chipped in nine points via three makes from beyond the arc.
Past the halfway point of the opening quarter, La Cañada held a slim 9-8 lead over San Marino when the Titans called a timeout. Hill could be heard in the huddle telling her team they were trying to “get ready for the playoffs and not take a vacation.” After that, the Spartans scored the last six points of the first quarter and then the first 14 points of the second to complete a 20-0 run.
Titan Jacqueline Chou, who scored all of her team’s points in the first quarter, led San Marino with 13 points.
“San Marino played really hard,” Hill said. “I’m not as pleased with my team’s performance tonight.”
The win means that La Cañada, ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division IIIA, wins a second consecutive Rio Hondo league title with the identical record it achieved in last season’s run to the outright crown. Additionally, in both league championship seasons, the lone Rio Hondo defeat for the Spartans was at the hands of South Pasadena, which currently sits at No. 6 in Division IIIA.
“It is always the goal every year, especially this team,” Hill said of her squad’s league title. “They would have liked it undefeated, but South Pasadena came to play that night and we were a little sluggish. But it’s good. You can’t complain when you have a league title.”
Next for the Spartans will be the CIF-Southern section playoffs, where La Cañada will look to match or improve upon its semifinal run of last season.
“This night wasn’t as pretty as you would have hoped,” Hill said. “You’d like to see them executing really well and doing awesome things going into playoffs, but, you know what, a win is a win and sometimes they come ugly.”