First published in the Feb. 17 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
By all accounts, the La Cañada High School varsity boys’ basketball team entered the playoffs playing some of its best ball of the season.
The hot Spartans had just won four consecutive Rio Hondo League games in a five-day span the previous week, a scheduling quirk due to COVID-protocol postponements in January. One of those victories was a crucial win against league-leading San Marino, forging a three-way tie for the league championship between La Cañada, San Marino and South Pasadena. It marked the ninth consecutive league title for legendary coach Tom Hofman’s team.
The CIF Southern Section regarded the Spartans so highly, especially considering their late-season winning streak, that they earned the No. 1 seed in the 32-team Division 3A tournament bracket.
But the season came to a screeching halt last Friday as LCHS was eliminated in the first round by visiting Burroughs High of Burbank, 55-45, in a heartbreaking setback.
Simply put, it was a rare off night for the Spartans who shot 33% (16-for-49) from the field and 4-for-14 from behind the arc.
“I think everybody played hard, we didn’t give up but it was just a bad shooting night,” Hofman said. “We only made two 3-pointers in the second half so it was tough. If we’re not shooting threes against these guys, we’re going to be in big, big trouble.”
The Spartans trailed at halftime, 23-20, despite senior Jacob Lee scoring 11 of La Cañada’s 13 points in the second quarter. He finished with a team-high 16 points, including one the Spartans’ four 3-pointers.
“I thought Jacob Lee kept us in the first half,” Hofman said. “He did a phenomenal job and we were in the game because of him. Probably his best offensive game of the year.”
La Cañada briefly found new life to open the third quarter, taking their first lead at 26-25 on a basket from senior Brady Ransom.
However, Burroughs quickly retook the lead with 5:14 remaining and never squandered its cushion the rest of the way, which was helped by finishing the quarter on a 9-2 scoring run.
“We were the No. 1 seed and that team can legitimately win CIF,” Hofman said of the Bears’ talent. “They had four transfers come in three weeks ago — they’re as good as anybody we’ve played all year. It was a horrible draw for us and a tough game to start the playoffs but our kids battled hard.”
La Cañada’s final two three-pointers came in the last 45 seconds when seniors Regan Franklin and Ethan Kuang scored their two baskets of the contest, the latter being the final one with 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Senior Brandon Chung collected nine points, Ransom had eight points and eight rebounds, senior Ty Reynolds had four points and senior Jack Stroben registered two points.
Despite not scoring, senior David Garland finished the season with 84 blocked shots — La Cañada’s new single-season record. He broke the mark set by former LCHS standout Simon Coetzee in 2003 with 72 blocks, according to Hofman.
“It was a great year,” Hofman said. “[Our players] got a league championship and they played hard. They are great, great kids. I am very proud of them as human beings and I am proud of how hard they played tonight.”
La Cañada finished the season with a 19-8 overall record (8-2 in league) and will seek to make it 10 straight league titles next season.