LA CRESCENTA — A St. Francis High boys' basketball team comeback against Hart came up just short in a Falcon Classic pool-play game Thursday.
The Golden Knights had cut what was once a 12-point Hart lead down to one early in the fourth quarter before St. Francis turnovers flipped things around for the Indians and allowed them to hold on for an 80-67 victory at Crescenta Valley High.
The Golden Knights simply got too tired, St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien said.
"A lot of times when you expend that much energy to get yourself back into the ball game and you're getting tired as it is — they had a deeper bench then we had — you make a couple plays and if they go the other way they break your back," O'Brien said.
The loss puts St. Francis (2-1) against Simi Valley in the third-place game of the Crescenta Valley tournament at 6:15 p.m. Friday. Hart (4-0) heads to the championship game Friday.
St. Francis' two go-to guards, Zack Gardea and Emerson Castaneda, played the majority of the game and did everything possible to keep their team in it.
"I'd say [they played] all but two minutes of the game," O'Brien said. "We have some other guys coming on, but they just don't have the experience level. Only one [Gardea or Castaneda] can come off the court at a time."
Gardea had a game-high 31 points and three steals and Castaneda had 23 points Thursday. St. Francis' next leading scorers — Tei Vanderford, Collin Peterson and Matt Kaufman — each had four points.
The Golden Knights went into halftime down, 47-38, but came back in the third, cutting the lead to five, 61-56, by the end of the third quarter.
Castaneda scored the first four points of the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to one, 61-60. The run was flipped in a hurry, as three straight St. Francis turnovers allowed Hart to push back out to a 70-60 advantage with 3:10 left in the game.
"They pressured pretty well and that got us out of our game," Gardea said. "It didn't let us run our plays and got us flustered."
Castaneda gave the Golden Knights some hope, hitting a three-pointer with 2:30 remaining to cut the lead down to 70-65, following two free throws from Gardea.
Hope didn't last long, as the Indians closed out the game with a 10-2 run, hitting all but one free throw down the stretch.
The biggest lead St. Francis held in the game was six points, as the Golden Knights got out to an 11-5 lead when Gardea converted an and-one opportunity early in the first quarter. Hart didn't trail long, tying the game at 13 before finishing the opening quarter up, 24-23.
The Indians kept rolling in the second quarter, taking a 12-point edge, 44-32, in the middle of the second quarter. They did so behind an impressive first half from Cruz, who had 14 points and nine rebounds in the first half and finished the game with 17 points and 13 boards. Lewis Stallworth finished with a team-high 25 points for Hart.
"We allowed the game to get too fast in the first half and we were gassed at halftime," O'Brien said. "We had to adjust and we probably should have done that earlier to slow the game down because we know [Gardea and Castaneda] going to have to play that many minutes."