Golden Knights stopped by Eagles

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — With the St. Francis High basketball team assured to finish in sixth place in the ultra-competitive Mission League, co-Coach Ray O'Brien said he still likes the Golden Knights' chances to be a part of the CIF Southern Section Division III-A playoffs next week.

Though the Golden Knights will not grab one of the four automatic playoffs spots from arguably one of the most difficult leagues in Southern California, O'Brien said he will petition to the CIF office in the next several days and make a case that the Knights belong in the 32-team playoff bracket.

"We are eighth right now in our division and play in one of the best leagues," O'Brien said after host St. Francis suffered a 49-39 league loss against Chaminade on Monday night. "In all likelihood we will [be in the playoffs], even though it's disappointing to lose this game."

St. Francis (10-15, 3-8 in league) had a superb opportunity to catch Chaminade (16-9, 5-6). The Golden Knights pulled to within 41-39 on a jump shot by Tei Vanderford with 3:16 remaining in the game. However, the Golden Knights, who suffered a 55-48 overtime loss against the Eagles on Jan. 19 at Chaminade, didn't score again and saw Chaminade, ranked tenth in Division IV-AA, wrap up no worse than fifth place.

"It was an interesting game," said O'Brien, who received a game-high 18 points from Zack Gardea and 10 points and 12 rebounds from Vanderford. "Both teams are fighting for respect in our league and we prepare for each other well.

"In the end, their role players hit a couple of shots and you need that. [Aadit Patel of Chaminade] make a couple of three-pointers and that's the difference."

Patel made a three-pointer to give the Eagles a 44-39 lead with 2:16 remaining and the Golden Knights couldn't mount a late comeback, missing their final four shots from the field.

Things looked promising for the Golden Knights entering the fourth quarter, trailing, 33-32. Unfortunately for St. Francis, it could only score seven points in the final eight minutes.

"It's a tough Mission League game," said Gardea, a reigning all-league second-team pick, who registered 12 third-quarter points. "You have to give their defense a lot of credit for the way they played in the fourth quarter.

"It's the best defense I've faced all season. Right now, we are practicing and looking at making the playoffs. We have one game left [7 p.m. Wednesday at Loyola] and we want to go out there and play our best. The more experience we can get, the better."

Gardea provided the Golden Knights with a spark in the third quarter. He made a three-pointer to give the Golden Knights a 26-24 lead with 4:34 left before making another three-pointer to give St. Francis its biggest lead at 30-25 with 3:12 left. At that juncture, Gardea had scored half of St. Francis' points.

Chaminade, which will conclude its regular season Wednesday on the road against last-place Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, received a team-high 11 points from Zach Miller, 10 from Jack Williams and 11 rebounds from Joel Loth.

The playoff pairings will be unveiled Sunday.

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