Knight defeat very bitter

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Five games into the season and the members of the St. Francis High basketball team have already had their share of close losses.

The latest defeat might have been the most painful, leaving St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien frustrated with the Golden Knights' inability to turn back their opponents.

"We play a lot of teams close and we match up with everybody outside of the Mission League, but we have to learn how to win the close games," O'Brien said after St. Francis fell, 54-51, to Bonita on Tuesday afternoon in a pool-play contest of the La Cañada Holiday Classic at La Cañada High. "We've had three close losses that could have been wins."

Tuesday's defeat might have been the hardest for the Golden Knights, who dropped to 2-3 and are ranked No. 12 in the CIF Southern Section Division III-A preseason poll, to absorb.

After St. Francis' Evan Crawford made a layup to give the Golden Knights a 51-50 lead with 48 seconds left in the game, Bonita scored the game's final four points in the final 31.3 seconds.

Ryan Ramirez made a jump shot with 31.3 seconds left to give the Bearcats a 52-51 lead. On the ensuing St. Francis possession, St. Francis guard Zack Gardea threw an errant pass that was stolen by Jeff Nelson with 6.6 seconds left. Gardea was ruled to have intentionally fouled Nelson, who then made the second of two free throws to make it 53-51. The Bearcats (7-1) kept the ball and Garrett Horine was fouled before making the first of two free throws to extend the advantage to 54-51 with five seconds remaining.

St. Francis had one final opportunity to tie the game, but a three-pointer by Jake Beck fell short at the buzzer.

"It was a pick and pop that we were trying to run," said O'Brien, whose team lost its third game in a row. "We didn't execute and Zack fouled too aggressively."

St. Francis received a game-high 19 points from guard Emerson Castaneda and 15 from Gardea.

"We just have to learn how to finish," said Castaneda, who had nine first-quarter points. "We've been letting teams back into the games in the second half."

Bonita, ranked No. 5 in Division III-AA, improved to 7-1 and got 14 points apiece from Brandon Ko and Ramirez in overcoming a 40-31 deficit in the third quarter.

St. Francis got nine points from Noah Willerford.

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