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Knights work numbers advantage

BURBANK — St. Francis High basketball co-Coach Ray O’Brien isn’t going to get too hyped up after a summer league win the same way he’s not going to lose much sleep after a loss.

For O’Brien and the Golden Knights’ coaching staff, it’s a time that allows them to get a young and, for the most part, inexperienced team prepared for a level of competition they are not accustomed to.

The squad carries mostly sophomores, including Noah Willerford and Jake Beck, who were instrumental in the team’s latest summer league contest. Along with Matt Kaufman and the two remaining staples from last year’s playoff run — Emerson Castaneda and Zack Gardea — the Golden Knights received a balanced scoring attack en route to a 76-32 win over Village Christian Tuesday afternoon at Burbank High.

“I don’t worry about wins or losses as much as developing our sophomores to become more confident and prove they can play at the varsity level,” O’Brien said after getting by a Crusaders team that dressed five players. “We want to educate them and get them used to the speed of this level.”


Kaufman and Castaneda each had seven points after the first quarter by the end of which the Golden Knights (4-3) held a 20-4 advantage.

Village Christian kept it close early despite giving up the first eight points of the game. Fueled by a 10-0 run, though, St. Francis held a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

Looking to slow down the Golden Knights’ offense and prevent penetration, the Crusaders switched to a zone defense in the second quarter, prompting a timeout from O’Brien after witnessing the offense suddenly get stagnant and confused.

The players eventually figured out the zone, connecting on eight three-pointers after the timeout and 11 for the game. Castaneda and Beck made three apiece with Connor Tapley hitting two late when the game had long been decided.


“If you’re going to let us run our offense, we know what to do,” O’Brien said. “Against a zone defense, we have good shooters and unselfish players who will distribute the ball.”

Willerford scored eight of his 15 points in the third quarter, when St. Francis outscored Village Christian, 26-17 — the smallest margin of any quarter.

Castaneda, who along with Gardea was honored with a second-team All-Mission League selection, led the way with 17 points. Beck and Tapley also scored in double-figures, putting in 11 and 10 respectively. Kaufman complemented well with nine.

“You never know what you’re going to get in these summer league games,” O’Brien said. “Last game we were without Emerson and Zack and we still won, so I’m more proud of that win than this one that we played against an understaffed team.”

Looking to continue garnering experience and learning to play with each other, the Golden Knights will next play in the Glendale Community College tournament, which starts Thursday and will run through the weekend.