PASADENA — From the opening tip-off right through to the final horn, the St. Francis High and La Cañada boys’ basketball teams gave the community something to cheer about for 32 minutes Friday night and most likely something to remember for a long time.
With the second-seeded Golden Knights and third-seeded Spartans clashing inside a sold-out Maranatha High gymnasium in a CIF Southern Section Division III-A semifinal contest, the venue served as a flash point for fans to take turns bellowing with delight. With nearly 1,000 fans in attendance, the environment often proved to be stimulating.
On the court, the audience witnessed an electrifying fourth-quarter performance from St. Francis junior guard Kyle Leufroy, who grabbed the mantle to turn back La Cañada and send St. Francis to its first CIF championship game in the program’s history.
“I got a lot of help from my teammates,” said a modest Leufroy, a reigning All-Area selection who scored eight of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to lead St. Francis to a 56-53 victory. “I’m tired in the fourth quarter, but it’s about being able to push through.
“Since the start of the season, we’ve been thinking that we have a special group of guys and maybe we could get to CIF and win it all. Things just worked out for the best tonight.”
St. Francis, which earned an at-large berth out of the Mission League, improved to 19-11 and will meet fourth-seeded Oak Park (20-10) in the title game Friday or March 8 at a site to be determined. La Cañada, which won the Rio Hondo League championship and finished 23-7, fought valiantly, but couldn’t contain Leufroy.
Leufroy, who rescued the Golden Knights with big performances in the fourth quarter and overtime in a first-round contest against unseeded Yucca Valley on Feb. 19, began to heat up again in the game’s final eight minutes Friday. He scored on a layup to bring the Golden Knights to within 51-50 with 4:10 left. Leufroy then converted on a three-point play to give St. Francis a 53-51 advantage with 3:41 remaining. The Golden Knights would never relinquish their lead and sealed the victory when Evan Crawford recorded a steal with six seconds to go and promptly ran out the clock.
“One of the things you realize as an opponent is that you have to be able to cover Kyle for all four quarters,” said Ray O’Brien, who shares the St. Francis coaching responsibilities with Jeff Stephens. “With Kyle, it’s a combination of him being physical and his energy and will on the court.
“Teams get tired guarding him, so he knows how to do things like getting to the rim very efficiently.”
Leufroy finished with 12 first-half points, though the Spartans held a 32-26 halftime advantage.
La Cañada looked for ways to defend against Leufroy. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they had no answers.
“He took over the game,” said La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman, who has piloted the Spartans to a pair of CIF championships. “Kyle was the difference because he seemed to get stronger as the game went along.
“As he got stronger, we seemed to get more tired.”
With the intense matchup now a pleasant memory for Leufroy and the Golden Knights, there’s now the matter of meeting up with Oak Park, which dispatched St. Francis in the quarterfinals last season.
“It’s great to be able to play for a championship,” Leufroy said.