NORTHEAST GLENDALE — When the boys' basketball teams from St. Francis and Glendale high met in the fifth-place game of the Glendale Community College Tournament on Sunday, they combined to produce somewhat of a summer rarity — a game that was hard-fought, truly competitive and exciting right to the conclusion of the Golden Knights' 59-51 victory.
Emerson's Castaneda's late three-point shot and a quirky three-point play converted by teammate Zack Gardea with under two minutes to play were two of the deciding factors for St. Francis in what remained a one-possession game throughout most of a second half that featured numerous lead changes.
"We need as many of these tougher games as possible because you're always going to look good against weaker teams," St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien said. "You won't really test what you're doing until you play a team like Glendale. They run a lot of the same motion offense that we run with screening, so they know how to handle our offense. It comes down to execution. A tough game like today is very valuable to both teams."
Gardea, who finished with a game-high 22 points, hit a step-back jumpshot to put St. Francis up, 41-38, entering the final 10 minutes of the second half, but Glendale kept the game even over the next five minutes, tying the score on a three-pointer by Suren Gyurgchyan with 5:00 to go.
The Golden Knights began to expand their lead on a floater by Gardea followed by a Sean Brennan steal that led to a three-pointer by Castaneda (18 points) at the 2:30 mark, making it a two-possession game, at 50-45, for the first time since late in the first half.
Anthony Tahmazian, who led Glendale with 18 points, answered promptly though, sinking a three-pointer of his own at the 2:00 mark to pull the Nitros back within two.
Then the tournament's unorthodox free-throw shooting rule took center stage.
Shooting fouls followed a "one-for-two" system whereby only a single free throw was awarded, but counted for two points if made. When Gardea was fouled in the act of shooting from well beyond the arc, he was awarded a three-for-one foul shot that he hit to bring the cushion back up to five with 1:44 to play.
"There was a little overexuberance at the end and I think everyone was trying to top one another," O'Brien said. "Their defense started to come out and be a little more aggressive, so we were fortunate to get a three."
Glendale drew a two-shot foul at the other end, but missed the attempt and came away empty, leading to a Brennan score that gave St. Francis a commanding seven-point lead with under a minute to play.
"I felt like that was the craziest five-point swing I've ever seen," Glendale Coach Steve Snodgress said of the bizarre free-throw exchange. "But give it to St. Francis, they made one or two plays down the stretch that really decided it.
"It was a really good basketball game, I really liked it. I was pleased with the effort, holding St. Francis into the 50s was our goal. …We just ran out of gas a little bit."
Glendale, which defeated Hoover, 48-30, on Saturday to reach the fifth-place game, also got nine points from Gyurgchyan, eight from Steven Gasparian and six points and 11 rebounds from David Yetenikyan on Sunday.
Hoover lost to Grant, 55-38, in the seventh-place game on Sunday.
St. Francis, which defeated Grant, 50-38, on Saturday, got seven points and six rebounds from Brennan on Sunday.
"The interesting thing today was we did probably a better job of driving the ball than shooting the three," said O'Brien, whose team made five of 14 three-point attempts, compared to Glendale's nine for 19. "We had a lot of guys able to drive and that's what we've been pushing on them the whole time, that we don't want to just be a three-point shooting team. If their defense is gonna come out and really pressure us on the perimeter, we've gotta be able to drive the ball and we did do that today."