La Cañada was playing for at least a share of the Rio Hondo boys’ basketball title in the regular season finale at San Marino.
The Titans were playing with house money.
“We talked in the locker room: ‘There is nothing to lose. We are fourth place if we won, fourth place if we lost, either way,’ so our whole team’s attitude was there was nothing to lose, it’s the end of the season,” San Marino senior Bobby Reyes said. “That is how we came out and that is how we finished the game.”
Against the visiting Spartans, San Marino built up a lead in the middle parts of the game and hung on through the final quarter to finish the regular season with a 57-54 victory on Feb. 1.
“We have been talking about finishing games. I’m just so proud of the effort these guys put in,” San Marino coach Mihail Papadopulos said. “To beat La Cañada you have to be gritty. You have to execute because they are very technically sound.”
With the loss to the Titans, coupled with South Pasadena’s win over Blair the same night, La Cañada (16-12 overall, 8-2 in league) finished second in league while the Tigers won the Rio Hondo League crown outright.
San Marino remained in fourth, but finished the regular season campaign with 22 wins, a mark never met before in school history.
Both squads are headed for the CIF Southern Section playoffs, which started Feb. 7. The Spartans will play at Long Beach Poly in Division II-A. San Marino will open its Division III-A run on the road against Mountain Valley League champion Indian Springs in San Bernardino. The Titans are ranked No. 7 in the final division poll released Feb. 4.
“We should go far if we play like we just played now,” said Reyes after the win over La Cañada. “Again, there is nothing to lose and let’s just go out and see what we can do.”
San Marino established an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, but led La Cañada by six points with 15 seconds to go after Titan Casey Chan hit one of two free throws. The visitors hurried down the court and Spartan Anders Petersen, draped with two Titan defenders, made a 3-pointer with six seconds to go. La Cañada got ahold of the ensuing inbounds pass from San Marino as the hosts tried to go long, only to see Titan Nicholas Chen deflect a pass right after. La Cañada recovered the ball and got off a long shot, but missed and the Titans had the win.
“Coach is always telling us to finish the deal. We just came together at the end and just found a way to win,” Chen said.
The second quarter was pivotal after La Cañada held a 20-14 lead after the first. The Spartans scored the first two points of the frame before the Titans went on a 14-0 run, after which they would never trail again. The first seven points came from Reyes on a layup off a spin move, a jumper off an assist by Jayden Tse and a three-point play after the senior was fouled making a layup and hit the foul shot. Chen then scored the next four on two layups before Tse drained a 3-pointer, making it 28-22. San Marino went into the half leading 32-26.
The Titans scored the first six points of the third quarter, bringing the advantage to its peak of 12 for the first time at 38-26.
It started with a Reyes layup. Mitch Mooney scored next after he made a steal in the back court and a fast-break layup by Chan finished the run. The final points of the period were scored by Chen, and the hosts led 47-38 going into the fourth.
Reyes led all scorers with 18 points. Chen had 14 points, Marco Rangel eight, Chan seven and Tse six. Mooney had four. La Cañada was led in scoring by Jack Reynolds with 17 points.
“It just feels good to beat La Cañada at home and finish the season with a [win],” Chen said.
San Marino started a lineup of five seniors with Eli Chin, Jack Fuerst, Tse, Michael Najarian and Reyes on the floor. In the pregame the Titans also symbolically announced seven starters, including injured seniors Adrian Huang and Dean Ryan.
The Titans won their final road game of the regular season with an 85-41 victory over the Rams on Jan. 30.
Papadopulos used the game as a chance to get every healthy Titan playing time throughout the contest.
Tse, who surpassed 200 career 3-pointers in the win, had 13 points. Reyes added 12 and freshman Marcus Chen nine, including a layup in the second quarter after spinning a full 360 degrees in the air before converting. Nicholas Chen and Brady Beck each scored eight points, while Fuerst had seven. Rangel, Nick Sung and Mooney scored six apiece. Chan, Chin and Leo Shyr had five, three and two points respectively.
San Marino opened with a 14-0 run to lead by 17 points after the first quarter, led by 21 at half and then outscored the hosts by 20 in the third period, prompting a running clock through the final frame.
First published in the Feb. 8 issue of the San Marino Tribune