PASADENA — Village Christian High's basketball roster boasts four players 6-foot-5 or taller and St. Francis' two tallest players check in at 6-3. Eventually, the Crusaders' size won out and led to rebounds and points in the paint in a 66-54 victory on Thursday night in the La Salle/Temple City Classic semifinals.
"I really think it was a game of we got worn down," St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien said.
The boards were key to the game. The Golden Knights (6-6) went into halftime tied at 31 after out rebounding Village Christian, 17-16, in the opening 16 minutes. The Crusaders (14-1) took a nine-point lead at 52-43 — the biggest of the game to that point — late in the third quarter after pulling down eight rebounds in the third to the Knights' three.
The Crusaders' Bryan Alberts had a big third quarter, scoring 10 of his team-high 17 points in the eight-minute span. Village Christian's Marsalis Johnson had five of his 11 rebounds and eight of his 11 points come in the second half.
St. Francis' Zack Gardea, who finished with 16 points, brought his team back within striking distance. He hit a running layup with about 30 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the lead to seven. He continued to lead his team on a 7-1 run, scoring five of those points, to cut the lead to three at 53-50 with six minutes left.
An ensuing steal led to an easy transition layup for Village's Marquis Salmon (16 points and nine rebounds) and a 9-0 run for the Cruasers to put the game out of reach, 64-50, with 2:15 left.
"We played with them as long as we could, but it was just a situation where eventually they got some easy run-out baskets," O'Brien said. "That was really the difference in the game."
Both teams had trouble getting an edge early on, as the first half featured six ties and two lead changes with a five-point lead being the biggest of the half when St. Francis took a 31-26 edge on two Tei Vanderford free throws with 1:25 left in the second quarter.
The Crusaders went on a 5-0 run, thanks to a Kristian Robles three-pointer and a buzzer-beating bucket from Salmons, to close out of the first half tied at 31.
Emerson Castaneda and Evan Crawford helped keep St. Francis in the game early. Castaneda scored 13 of his game-high 18 points in the first half and nine of Crawfords' game-high 10 rebounds came in the first half.
After the game, O'Brien told his players to keep their heads up.
"We've really progressed in this tournament," he said. "We have been in every single game, we just don't have the physical size that a lot of other teams have. Sometimes we get worn down, but you see how hard they fight.
"It was a tough, contested game and that's all you can ask for out of those kids."