Intensity fuels St. Francis basketball team

LA CANADA —  With no easy games in the Mission League in boys’ basketball, St. Francis High came into Monday’s league matchup with Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in sixth place.

But three of the Golden Knights’ losses in league were by a combined total of eight points, and if the ball had bounced a little differently they could be sitting in third place.

However, with finishing among the top teams in league already extinguished, St. Francis looked to make it a season sweep against the last-place Knights.

St. Francis came out with an energized defensive effort in the opening minutes that put Notre Dame on its heels and forced it to play catch-up. The Golden Knights never relinquished the lead they built early, riding that intensity to a 43-31 victory at home.

Although St. Francis (14-12, 4-7) could easily be in the thick of an automatic postseason berth with one game in the regular season remaining had it won those three close games, co-coach Ray O’Brien doesn’t want to dwell on what could have happened.

“We really don’t want to think about the what-ifs,” he said. “We just have to get over that.
“The main thing that we’ve been stressing is that we play better in league against every team the second time we play them. And we’ve been able to do that. We have been improving, and that’s what we’re happy with.”

St. Francis will end its regular season Wednesday with a home league game against Chaminade. With automatic berths taken up by the other teams in league, the Golden Knights will likely receive an at-large berth into the CIF Southern Section playoffs.

“I’ll tell you what,” O’Brien said, “we won’t see the physical play probably in the first or second round of the playoffs like we saw tonight.”

The officials let the two teams play and the result was a physical affair.

St. Francis received a solid effort from sophomore Kyle Leufroy, who scored  a game-high 15 points. Teammate Noah Willerford added nine points, Markar Agakanian had eight and Evan Crawford had seven points to go along with nine rebounds.

The Golden Knights came out and played an intense defensive game from the outset. That defensive pressure helped them jump out to an 8-0 lead in the opening minutes of the first quarter.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game, so we just came out and played as hard as we could,” Leufroy said. “We knew if we played good defense that we would give them problems.”

The early lead enabled the Golden Knights to take a 15-9 advantage against Notre Dame (9-17, 1-10) after one quarter.

Although St. Francis scored only 10 points in the second quarter, it limited the Knights to just four, as the hosts went into halftime leading by 13, 25-12.

It was more of the same from St. Francis in the third and when Agakanian scored on a put-back with 4:23 left, the Golden Knights had upped their lead to 17, 31-14.

Notre Dame could never cut the lead to single digits in the fourth quarter.

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