By Brandon HENSLEY
week ago, the Falcon boys’ basketball team dropped its second game in a row, another road loss at the hands of the vaunted Pasadena Bulldogs. They also fell to the other Pacific League team with the Bulldogs moniker, Burbank. The Falcons weren’t scoring, weren’t crisp on defense and little resembled the team that was coming off a Christmas tournament championship a couple weeks prior. They were 1-2 in a league that was supposed to be up for grabs this year. This was not the way to start.
But assistant coach Dovall Boykins had a message for the guys: We’re fine. There’s no need to worry.
“And we are fine,” Boykins reiterated recently. “You have 14 games. You just focus on the next game.”
Now there are 13 games left, but Boykins’ words have proved true. This week the Falcons have recovered enough and are proving themselves as worthy challengers to the league throne. After blasting Glendale High School last Friday, the Falcons hosted first-place, undefeated-in-league Muir on Tuesday and came out on top, 60-51.
Muir was bigger and stronger, and bullied the Falcons down low early on, but something clicked for the home team soon after. The execution was cleaner, and the defense improved; hands flew in the air and bodies dived on the floor for balls. Coach Shawn Zargarian loosened his verbal grip late and enjoyed the last few minutes of the fourth quarter.
“Every time we’ve been faced with the challenge to play a very good team … it’s like our personality and demeanor changes,” Zargarian said. “We start sharing the ball, take great shots, our scrappiness on defense is there, our ability to dive for loose balls.
“Can we play at this level all the time? It’s definitely in there and we have the potential. I’m very, very proud of the effort tonight to come out here and do this.”
It wasn’t easy against Muir’s long and lanky Hunter Woods, but all of Woods’ 18 points came in the first three quarters – he fouled out late in the third (the game was physical from the start, and both teams shot 27 free throws).
Crescenta Valley had several heroes in the night. Arin Ovanessian scored 20 points. Guard Koko Kechichian, a new favorite of Zargarian’s this year, had a triple-seven game (that’s not an official phrase, but what else to call it?) with seven of each in points, rebounds and assists. Journey Shank had eight points and four assists, and Chris Reik grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
It was a total team effort for CV, (14-5, 4-2 in league) now just a game out of first place.
“A [key] for us is sharing the ball. The games we lost we played more selfish, but this game we concentrated more on giving the extra pass,” said junior guard Trey Ballard.
On Tuesday, Ballard didn’t fill up the stat sheet (he scored four points) but his hustle on an almost-steal, in which he dived for the ball out of bounds, had the CV bench and Zargarian himself running over and helping him with great approval.
Ballard also didn’t commit a turnover, and that’s not surprising. Despite being one of the smallest players on the team, he’s also one of the smartest and careful with the ball. He doesn’t ever seem to screw up.
“He doesn’t take bad shots. He shares the ball. He’s in all of the right defensive coverages. He’s a great teammate. He never does anything where I have to yell at him,” Zargarian said.
Boykins said if there’s one guy who has made an obvious jump in progress this year it’s Ballard.
“He’s very consistent day in and day out. He’s going to give you everything he has for 32 minutes straight,” Boykins said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he has a big heart and he’ll do whatever it takes to help us win.”
Ballard is calm on the floor, which probably belies his inner intensity. In the locker room, he’s downright insouciant in his tone and body language, but he acknowledged how good it felt to have the coaches heap that kind of praise on him.
“It means a lot because I know from that, that I’m doing the right thing,” Ballard said. “And it gives me more confidence because they don’t yell at me as much.”
Crescenta Valley will finish its three-game homestand on Friday when it takes on Arcadia at 7 p.m., and then head out on the road to play Burroughs on Tuesday at 5 p.m.