Falcon basketball can win at least a share of league with a win tonight. It will have been a long time coming.
By Brandon HENSLEY
If you ask Shawn Zargarian how many games in a row his Crescenta Valley High School basketball team has won, he’ll say he has no idea. If you ask him for a perspective on a season that’s been harder and weirder than other in recent memory, he’ll swiftly dismiss that talk. All he knows, all he cares about, is winning the next game on the Falcons’ schedule.
But he must be aware that if the Falcons win their regular season finale tonight at Arcadia High School against the rival Apaches, they will have at least won a share of the Pacific League championship. If the Pasadena Bulldogs lose to Muir tonight, then a Falcon win will give it to them outright. The program hasn’t accomplished either of those things since 2004, when Jim Smiley coached a Matt Oliver-led team to an outright title.
There isn’t any question the Pacific League is not as a strong this year, but CV has dealt with players leaving the program, injuries and massive absence in the height department, and here they are, 19-8 overall, 11-2 in league. They’re riding an eight-game winning streak and they’re on the cusp of something unique to Zargarian’s head coaching tenure.
“I’m not thinking about games before, games after, what’s at stake, what’s going on,” he said. “If you look at our pregame [whiteboard], every single game it says the same thing: 1-0.”
Fair enough. The Falcons entered Tuesday’s game with the challenge of beating a Hoover team in an uninspiring atmosphere.
The crowd in the CV gym was sparse, and Hoover came in just 4-8 in league. This could have been a trap game, but the Falcons were victorious, 60-46, led by center Eric Patten’s 15 points and 13 rebounds. Guard Eric Bae matched Patten with 15 points of his own.
The game was in contrast to the one at Muir a couple of weeks ago, or the home games vs. Burroughs and Pasadena where tension clung to every pass and rebound, and the Falcons had to dig themselves out of big holes to keep their league hopes alive. Just call them the MacGyver of basketball teams. (The players run out on AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and the music during timeouts consists of Rush and Judas Priest, so maybe that retro reference isn’t so out of place.)
Pasadena, bigger and more athletic with guys like Ajon Efferson and Tyrek Adams, had CV down 10-1 in the first quarter last Friday. It felt like 30-1. With less than six minutes to go in the game, Pasadena had a nine-point lead.
But the Falcons don’t panic, because Zargarian makes sure you know that in the locker room afterward, and his team came out with a 55-51 comeback win.
“Those teams are bigger than us, more athletic than us,” Zargarian said of Pasadena and Muir. “But this team plays with a lot of heart, a lot of grit. The other thing is, they follow the game plan. We have certain adjustments we make every game, and they’re executing the game plan and that’s the difference.”
Muir is an uncharacteristic 7-5 in league, good for fourth place, behind 8-4 Burroughs, which is enjoying a stronger year in league thanks to Kansas City transfer students Rashid Ewing and Amaad Wainright.
Again, this season’s been unusual.
“We’re really excited,” said Falcon junior forward Connor Van Ginkel. “We knew we had to win out (since the Jan. 13 loss at Burroughs) and there was only so much we could control. We knew that the league this year there were going to be teams that would upset each other … a lot of teams slipped and here we are.”
Patten has been the constant all year, good for over double digits in points and rebounds every night. Point guard Berj Krikorian has done a solid job distributing and also scoring when he needs to. Unlike last year, when he backed up then-senior Cole Currie, Krikorian routinely attacks the basket with spin moves and floaters. If his shot is not there, he’ll try to find Bae or Kyle Currie, who are reliable 3-point shooters.
Van Ginkel provides the toughness, along with Jimmy Smiley. In fact, Van Ginkel is wearing a mask the rest of the season because of a broken nose sustained against Glendale on Jan. 28. He didn’t play the following game at Muir.
Smiley was ejected early in the Pasadena game last Friday for mixing it up with an opponent 20 feet away from the actual play. He was suspended for Tuesday’s game, as is the rule for when someone is thrown out of the pervious contest.
The Falcons don’t, and can’t, rely on 25-foot bombs from Cole Currie anymore. Again, it’s been a different kind of season, a different kind of team.
Victories and Hijinks for Lady Falcons
The CV girls’ basketball team is also gearing up for the playoffs, and last Friday on Senior Recognition Night they defeated the Pasadena Bulldogs 65-22.
“Probably the best game we’ve ever had. All the seniors played. It was fun for everyone,” said senior guard Tanisha Minassian.
“It’s our last league home game, so that really hit me, and towards the end of the game I felt it,” said senior Ella Stepanian. “I’m not letting it affect me because we still have so much to accomplish.”
Stepanian played sparingly in the second half to rest her right knee, on which she had ACL surgery in 2012. She said she deals with irritation in that area from time to time, and Coach Jason Perez has sat her out of recent practices.
Minassian’s favorite memory on the court was last year when she scored a career high 27 points against Muir. Off the court, her favorite moments are playing pranks on coaches and teammates on tournament trips in San Diego.
“Every new player that comes to San Diego, we always raid their room and put shaving cream everywhere,” she said.
But it’s not just players. The team will put shaving cream on coaches, including Perez.
“They throw us out, and we run back in, likes four times,” Minassian said.
Stepanian said this year she was in Perez’s room and positioned a bucket of water on top of the door. Unfortunately for her amusement, Perez walked in and the bucket landed at his feet instead of on his head.
“We’re a very close-knit family, and he’s very close to us, too,” she said of Perez.