St. Francis holds off La Salle, 57-52

PASADENA — The first three quarters belonged to the St. Francis High boys' basketball team when it took on La Salle Wednesday night, but one play changed all that.

The Lancers' Jordan Hill brought his team and home fans back in the game with a two-handed dunk late in the third quarter. The jam sparked a La Salle run that cut what was a 13-point deficit to six, but St. Francis withstood the comeback attempt to pull out a 57-52 victory in the quarterfinals of the La Salle/Temple City Holiday Classic.

The Golden Knights (6-5) will play Village Christian today at 7:30 p.m. in the tournament's semifinals at La Salle after the Crusaders defeated La Cañada, 58-41, Wednesday in the tournament's semifinals.

Hill's dunk cut St. Francis' lead to 10 at 42-32 with 1:10 to go in the third quarter. More importantly, it changed the complexion of the game for La Salle (8-6) after a slow start Wednesday.

“We've had a few games like this this year where we start slow,” La Salle Coach Steve Goldstein said. “There are a lot of mistakes, we build a hole and we frantically come back and start playing defense and rebounding the ball. I think it's just more of a question of focus with us.”

La Salle went on a 14-6 run after Hill's dunk to cut the lead to 48-42. Jake Beck stopped the run with a three-pointer for St. Francis, forcing La Salle to call a timeout down, 51-42, with 3:24 remaining.

The Golden Knights' Tei Vanderford notched the next bucket on a put back to increase the lead to 53-42 with 2:42 left.

“[Vanderford] is a great athlete and he stepped it up,” St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien said. “That's what we need off the bench.

“He stepped up and did exactly what he's supposed to do, rebound put backs or get in that open space and score.”

Vanderford was clutch for St. Francis, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the second half with six coming in the fourth quarter after La Salle switched to a triangle defense late to shut down the Golden Knights' stars, Zack Gardea and Emerson Castaneda.

“They were forcing other people to shoot,” said Vanderford, who also had four of his game-high nine rebounds in the final quarter. “We have to have someone step up and every game it's going to be someone else. They know Emerson and Zack are two of the best in the area.”

The Lancers still weren't going away easy, trimming the margin back down to six on another dunk from Hill (17 points, seven rebounds) with 45 seconds left, but it was too late as Castaneda, who had a game-high 23 points and seven rebounds, hit both of his free throws to increase the lead to 57-49 with 13 seconds left.

“We did a nice job of getting back in the game, but we just didn't rebound like we should have when it mattered,” Goldstein said. “I was pleased we got back in the game, though.”

The Lancers fell into a big hole early, trailing 16-9 at the end of the first quarter and 32-20 by halftime after missing their first five shots of the game. La Salle was also out rebounded 19-9 in the first 16 minutes and 36-23 in the game. Castaneda and Gardea both combined for 26 points in the first half.

“The biggest thing for us has been our defense,” O'Brien said. “We don't want to have to score 70 points to win a ball game... I think our defense is what's starting to keep us in ball games.”

Gardea finished with 11 points. Jeff Briegel had 17 points and six boards for La Salle.

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