Photos and story by Brandon HENSLEY
Six years ago this week against Arcadia High School, Cole Currie took an inbounds with just seconds left in regulation and his Falcons trailing by two points. Currie dribbled the length of the court and in front of his team’s bench, nailed a game-winning three-pointer, setting off what may be the loudest celebration ever in Crescenta Valley High’s southern gymnasium, which opened in 2001.
But Currie, who was in attendance for Thursday night’s season finale against Arcadia, will have to make room for another hero who has beaten the Apaches on a last-second shot. His name is Koko Kechichian.
Down 76-75 with – again, just seconds remaining in the game — Kechichian drove the lane and made a left-handed layup, putting the Falcons up by one point, and giving the many fans in attendance reason to celebrate what had been a frustrating experience for the first 31 minutes.
After a timeout, Arcadia ran a play and made a three-pointer from the far corner as time expired. Only, it was obvious the buzzer had sounded, and officials waved it off. Students stormed the court, some of them grabbing Kechichian with congratulatory hugs.
“It’s awesome. I don’t know, I’m speechless right know,” Kechichian said in the locker room after the game.
The win against their arch-rival gave the Falcons 18 victories on the season, and a 10-4 record in the Pacific League, good for third place. CIF playoff seeding will be announced Sunday, and games will start Wednesday.
Kechichian, a senior guard, struggled to find any rhythm during Tuesday’s win over Burroughs. That game belonged to his senior teammate Journey Shank, who scored 26 points in a dominant effort. But all season long, Shank and Kechichian have passed the baton back and forth as to who might step up during any given game. Thursday, on senior recognition night, in front of had to have been the most packed attendance of the season, Kechichian carried his team to a memorable win, though Shank still earned some credit.
“I need to compliment Journey, because Journey came up to us in the huddle and said, ‘Put the ball in Koko’s hands. He’s playing a great second half,’” Head Coach Shawn Zargarian said.
The Apaches didn’t dominate the game, but it felt for all four quarters this may be their night. They held a six-point lead late, and Zargarian wasn’t happy with CV’s defense, saying his players relied too much on scoring while not realizing stops at the other end is what they really needed.
Fortunately for Zargarian, CV played just well enough to stop Arcadia in the final two minutes, including forcing two jump balls thanks to a full-court press. That gave Kechichian a chance to do something special. It also certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of the opposing players.
“I wouldn’t say we didn’t deserve the game because we made big plays when the game was on the line,” Zargarian said. “For Arcadia, to play as hard as they did and to make such big shots and lose and to lose at the end like that is rough. On the flip side, I’m proud of the way our guys handled that situation. We never got rattled and stayed the course.”
The CV crowd was antsy throughout the second half. Every time the Falcons scored, it seemed Arcadia had an answer. Kechichian, who plays with pure aggressiveness despite the soft timbre of his voice, never wavered.
“We’re still in the game, just get to the basket,” he said of his mindset. “Honestly, I just had to trust my teammates, and trust what the coaches are telling to do, and we did it.”
Zargarian was asked to compare Currie’s heroics to Kechichian’s. He noted the difference in the ways it was done, including how there was still time left for the Apaches to win it this time.
“I’ll tell you what, the last 10 seconds with the ball in their hands and us scrambling … it was scary,” he said.
The Falcons lost made it to the second round of the CIF playoffs last season, where they suffered a heartbreaking home loss to Walnut. Kechichian said he and his teammates are better this year. They play with a chip on their shoulder, because the Falcons know they’ll most likely be the smaller, shorter team against whoever they play. That means they’ll be underestimated, which he likes.
“It’s been tough because we’re one of the smaller teams. But I feel we have something really special with the team. Our hearts, our minds, our chemistry is amazing,” he said. “We’ll play to the last whistle. We’ll never give up.”