EL MONTE — After a grueling run through the stacked Mission League, the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division III-A playoffs came easy to the St. Francis boys' basketball team.
It was bad news for Mountain View, the home team and St. Francis' opponent, Wednesday as the Vikings had trouble keeping up with the Golden Knights, who ran away with a dominating 64-33 victory.
"We play all year long against a ridiculously tough schedule, I think we're ready to go by this time of the year," said St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien, whose team held a 41-13 rebounding advantage in the game. "We just teach them not to take anybody for granted the same way if we get taken for granted the other team gets in trouble. I think mentally we were prepared right from the get-go."
The Golden Knights' Zack Gardea was definitely ready, as he drove on the Vikings (14-13) with ease, while still flashing a lethal jump shot, en route to scoring 16 points in the first quarter and a game-high 19.
St. Francis (11-16) was dealt a tough blow Wednesday as its other primary scorer, Emerson Castaneda, injured his left knee going for a loose ball about five minutes and 30 seconds into the game.
"Our star player Emerson went down with an injury, so I had to pick up my game and lead the team," Gardea said.
O'Brien said Castaneda may have a strained meniscus and is doubtful for Friday's second-round game at home against the winner of the first-round contest between Covina and Pioneer.
"I would say it doesn't look good, but I don't know the answer to [if he'll be able to play], I'm not a doctor," O'Brien said. "Obviously, we need Emerson for Friday, so we're hoping he's going to come back. If not, someone else is going to have to step up."
The Knights had already taken a 14-4 lead by the time Castaneda went down, with Gardea scoring 12 of those points.
Gardea credited his big game to the elevated level of play and defense he sees all year in league.
"Our experience after being through league is tremendous," he said. "It's an experience many other teams don't have."
The Golden Knights didn't let seeing their senior captain go down rattle them, as they went into the second quarter up, 22-7.
It was St. Francis' defense and rebounding that truly allowed the Knights to pull away and never look back. Mountain View, a drive-first offense, had difficulty getting around its defenders, as it often had to settle for perimeter jump shots that were rarely on target.
"We thought they'd be a driving team, they're small so we anticipated that and practiced it during the week," O'Brien said. "We were pretty much ready for what they were going to bring."
The Golden Knights also held a 23-5 rebounding advantage in the first half, as they increased their lead to 34-11 at halftime.
Gardea became a facilitator from the second quarter on, as a different Knight shined each quarter.
St. Francis' Justin Trout had six of his 10 points in the second period. He also finished the game with seven rebounds.
Tei Vanderford went off in the third quarter, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the span before finishing with a double-double after grabbing 11 rebounds for the Knights.
It was St. Francis' Noah Willerford who stepped up in the fourth, scoring eight of his 11 points in the final eight minutes.