PASADENA — There was no denying if the St. Francis High boys' basketball team was to defeat Maranatha in Friday evening's third-place game of the La Salle/Temple City Holiday Classic, the Golden Knights were going to need a major defensive effort.
That effort, of course, had to center on slowing down Minutemen 5-foot-10 junior guard Jeremy Major, who entered Friday's affair averaging 28.1 points per game.
While Major scored a game-high 31 points, his passing helped the Minutemen put away St. Francis, 60-56.
"I'm proud of how our kids answered. They had like a seven-point lead late in the third," Maranatha Coach Tim Godley said. "But the kids answered and Jeremy really did a great job. He scores, but he's also a great passer."
St. Francis senior guard Emerson Castañeda tied the game at 47 when he picked off a pass at Maranatha's three-point line and raced for an uncontested layup at the 4:05 mark in the fourth.
While neither team scored on its next possession down, the Minutemen went up for good when Major sliced through the lane and kicked to cutting teammate Jorge Castello, who scored a four-footer with 2:58 remaining as the Minutemen pulled ahead, 49-47.
After a miss from St. Francis (5-7), Major again ran down court before dishing to junior Michael DeMeester, who scored from two feet with 2:19 remaining.
"I know people are always going to key on me, so when it gets down the stretch, people are going to be open," Major said. "I'm looking for my teammates. I know they're going to be open and I know they're going to make their shots."
The Minutemen (11-3) took possession again 10 seconds later after Golden Knights senior Tei Vanderford missed a 14-footer.
Again, Major crashed the paint and fired to wide-open junior forward Andrew Elffers, who hesitated before draining a crucial three-pointer with 1:41 left that put Maranatha ahead, 54-47.
The Minutemen eventually extended their advantage to 56-47 with 55 seconds left on an offensive put back by DeMeester.
Despite the deficit, however, St. Francis feverishly rallied behind nine final-minute points from senior guard Zack Gardea, who drained back-to-back three-pointers, the latter with 3.1 seconds left to cut the deficit to three points at 59-56.
"We really haven't practiced for a situation like that where we need to come back like that," St. Francis co-Coach Jeff Stephens said. "We hit a few shots then, but we missed a lot of shots earlier that put us in that situation."
After Gardea's second three-pointer, Major was fouled and sealed the game by converting one of two free throws.
Overall, Gardea led St. Francis with 19 points, while Vanderford added 12 points and three blocks and Castañeda contributed 10 points.
Major put on a show in the first half offensively, scoring 19 of his team's 29 points, as Maranatha led, 29-25, at the half.
"We did a terrible job [guarding Major]," Stephens said. "We had a game plan and it did not include leaving him wide open, which is what we did in the first half."
Despite that effort, St. Francis rallied to take a 40-33 lead with 2:20 left in the third on a steal and subsequent coast-to-coast layup from Vanderford.
The Golden Knights won the quarter, 17-11, behind five steals.