St. Francis basketball knocks off champions

LA CANADA — With his team in need of a scoring surge, the St. Francis High basketball team found Markar Agakanian to be the perfect target.

Agakanian proved he could shoulder the scoring load and help the Golden Knights get back into the thick of things in the arduous Mission League. Doing it against the defending CIF Division III state champion made it all that much more impressive and rewarding for the sophomore guard.

Agakanian collected eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter to help host St. Francis record a 48-46 league victory against Alemany on Wednesday night.

“It makes it that much more special beating a team like that,” said Agakanian, who scored his eight points midway through the final quarter and helped St. Francis improve to 12-10, 2-5 in league. “My teammates found me open and I got some nice passes to make those shots.

“I think we wanted the ball more [in the fourth quarter]. It’s a big win for us and gives us more confidence.”

St. Francis, ranked No. 7 in the latest CIF Southern Section Division III-A poll, split the two-game season series with Alemany. The Warriors (14-7, 4-3) posted a 58-45 home win Jan. 4.

On Wednesday, the Golden Knights received some balanced scoring to hold off the Warriors. They also received a key offensive rebound and steal from Noah Willerford in the game’s final 30 seconds.

Evan Crawford of St. Francis made the first of two free throws to give the Golden Knights a 47-46 lead with 30 seconds left. Crawford then missed the next free throw, but Willerford alertly swooped in and tapped the ball back to the Golden Knights.

With 25.2 seconds to go, Kyle Leufroy (team-high 17 points) missed the front end of a one-and-one situation. Willerford then picked off the errant Alemany pass. Alemany fouled Crawford with 17.5 seconds left. Crawford made the first free throw and missed the second to make it 48-46.

Following an Alemany timeout with 16.7 seconds remaining, the Warriors had two golden scoring chances inside the paint to tie or take the lead, but couldn’t convert. Agakanian was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1.2 seconds to play. Each team called a timeout before Alemany inbounded the ball from near its basket. A pass by KJ Moffett was picked off by St. Francis’ Greg Lupica.

“We missed some free throws toward the end, but we played smart the whole four quarters,” St. Francis co-Coach Ray O’Brien said. “Alemany is a very athletic team and we figured they would have to make their outside shots and we stuck with that.

“These [Mission League] games are always going to be hard. It’s such a competitive league. We got some big contributions.”

The Warriors held a 42-36 lead early in the fourth quarter before Agakanian went to work. He made two straight short jump shots to bring the Golden Knights to within 42-40 with 6:21 left. He scored on a layup to tie it at 42 with 5:34 to go before giving the Golden Knights a 44-42 lead with another jump shot at the 4:40 mark.

St. Francis, which improved to 2-1 in its last three games, never trailed after that point.

“Markar came up big in that stretch,” said O’Brien, who got eight points apiece from Willerford and Lupica. “We moved the ball around better and Evan got him the ball.”

Bear Henderson finished with a team-best 15 points for Alemany.

St. Francis will next compete in a league road game at 7 p.m. Monday against Crespi.

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