St. Francis basketball comes on to knock off Nitros

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Fresh off having won an earlier tournament, the members of the St. Francis High basketball team began their quest on capturing a second Tuesday.

It took some time to shake off the rust, but thanks to solid effort from Noah Willerford, the Golden Knights responded with a late surge to get them on the right track.

Willerford scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half to lead St. Francis to a 52-46 pool-play victory against Glendale in the La Cañada High Tournament.

St. Francis, which won the 24th annual Paul Sutton Tip-Off Tournament at Providence High on Dec. 1, improved to 5-0. Glendale dropped to 1-4.

Willerford, who also contributed 10 rebounds, got things started for the Golden Knights, who ended the game on a 16-10 run over the final five minutes, 30 seconds.

"Those guys found me and I knocked down some shots," said Willerford, who started the surge by making a jump shot with 5:30 remaining to give St. Francis a 38-36 advantage. "We knew that we had to step it up defensively and turn things around.

"We expect to be in a lot of close games like this one. There are some real good teams in the tournament and it will help us get ready for Mission League."

Glendale appeared poised to knock off St. Francis. The Nitros played well for three quarters, building a 36-32 lead.

However, Glendale Coach Steve Snodgress said the Nitros ran out of steam midway through the fourth quarter.

"St. Francis played a lot better than us over the final five minutes," said Snodgress, who received a game-high 19 points and team-high seven rebounds from Vahe Aristakessian. "We went dead offensively and they forced a couple of turnovers.

"We are at 1-4 and we need to find a way to play right for four quarters. Right now, we are a three-quarter team."

St. Francis also received a boost in the fourth quarter from Jordan Lynch. Lynch came off the bench and made a pair of free throws to extend St. Francis' lead to 42-36 with 4:44 left. Those were the only two points Lynch would contribute, but his energy ignited the Golden Knights.

"Jordan came into the game when we were on our heels, and he managed to bring some intensity," said St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien, who got 15 points from Kyle Leufroy. "Noah had intensity the whole game.

"Noah kept us in the game. He was the only one who could hit an outside shot. He did a good job rebounding and playing defense."

A layup by Evan Crawford gave the Golden Knights a 46-41 lead with 2:50 remaining.

Glendale closed out a 9-5 run in the second quarter to take a 23-20 halftime advantage. Aristakessian had 10 first-half points to pave the way for the Nitros.

Glendale and St. Francis will participate in pool-play games Wednesday. Glendale will meet Bonita at 3 p.m., followed by St. Francis against Marina at 4:30.

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