PASADENA — Despite struggling through portions of a nervous regular season finale, the La Salle High boys' basketball team ensured itself a little more time for improvement.
That’s because the Lancers clinched the Del Rey League’s final automatic postseason berth with a 46-42 victory over visiting Bishop Amat on Wednesday evening during senior night.
“This means so much because it’s my last year and I’ve always wanted to go far in the playoffs,” Lancers senior guard Izzy Lacy (four assists and three steals) said. “We’ve made it to the second round or the third round, but we’ve never made it to the big ship. With this team and this type of talent, we have the capability to go all the way.”
La Salle (14-9 overall, 4-4 in league), ranked 16th in Division IV-AA, finished third in league and will find out where it will open the postseason when the basketball pairings are released Sunday. Despite the loss, it’s likely that Division III-A ninth-ranked Bishop Amat (14-12, 2-6) will earn a postseason at-large bid.
Perhaps the biggest sequence of the entire game was started by a mistake, when Bishop Amat’s Eric Fonseca jumped in front of an errant pass intended for La Salle’s Milan Acquuah with one minute left in the game and the visitors trailing, 42-41.
Fonseca stole the pass near mid-court and sprinted to La Salle’s rim with Acquuah in hot pursuit.
What should have been a go-ahead layup by Fonseca rimmed out as Acquuah took the rebound and led a surprise counter-attack as players on both sides seemed confused.
There was no such ambiguity for Acquuah, who raced the other way and found teammate Vance Jackson (11 points) for a four-footer with 48 seconds left that put La Salle up, 44-41.
“It was a tough game, but our defense played better as we went on and the crowd helped us,” said Acquuah, who led all scorers with 18 points, five rebounds and four steals. “We knew we had to win.”
Bishop Amat answered with a free throw from Jeffrey Wold with 22.2 seconds left and, then after a La Salle turnover, had one last solid look when a three-pointer from Ian Hagerty missed with 25 seconds left.
La Salle’s Connor Williams was immediately fouled and sank two free throws to put La Salle up, 46-42, with 23.6 seconds left, which iced the game.
A win seemed unlikely, at least early on for La Salle, which trailed, 14-2, with 1:20 remaining in the first quarter with its lone field goal coming on a layup from Acquuah.
Yet, La Salle scored six of the quarter’s final eight points to trail, 16-8, at the end of one quarter.
La Salle was behind, 24-17, at halftime before getting back into the contest in the third quarter.
La Salle won the turnover battle in the third, 9-3, and outscored Bishop Amat, 13-5, in taking a 30-29 lead.
Senior guard Austin Alvarado first put La Salle ahead, 30-28, with 34.9 seconds left in the third on a three-pointer that was created off a steal from Acquuah and an assist from Lorenzo Rosales.
“What feels good about this is that the kids have gotten better,” La Salle first-year Coach Jelani Gardner said. “I’ve seen growth from every kid on the roster, from being mentally prepared to understanding our commitment defensively. I’m happy that they get to enjoy this.”
Joseph Cook led Bishop Amat with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three steals.