LA CAÑADA —Backed by tenacious defense, the St. Francis High basketball team clinched a berth in the championship game of the La Canada Holiday Classic with a win over Bonita on Friday evening.
The Golden Knights held the Bearcats to 22% shooting from the field, including just two field goals in the third quarter, while they opened the floodgates by winning the quarter by 12 points and cruised to a 50-26 victory at La Canada High.
St. Francis, which had its own share of offensive woes in the first half, took control in the latter 16-minute stretch and will play Mark Keppel on Saturday night at 7:30.
“Their defense was very good,” said Golden Knights co-Coach Ray O’Brien, who received a team-high 19 points from Kyle Leufroy on eight of 10 shooting. “While we shouldn’t have committed 12 turnovers in the first half, their defense was good, so give them credit. We haven’t played that good of a zone defense all season.”
Bonita’s defense had been steady all tournament, keeping Arcadia and South Hills to 33 points each en route to setting up the clash with St. Francis. Both teams relied on their respective defenses in the first half, as offense came at a premium.
Despite the 12 giveaways O’Brien alluded to, the Golden Knights offense shot efficiently from the field in the first half, connecting on eight of 19 attempts to take a 17-12 advantage at halftime.
St. Francis (6-1) settled down in the third quarter and hit six of eight, led by Noah Willerford, who put in eight points in the frame. On the other side of the floor, relentless defense did a solid job of closing out on Bonita’s shooters.
The potent play on both ends resulted in a 17-5 quarter in favor of the Golden Knights, as they led, 34-17, going into the fourth quarter. The lead would prove to be insurmountable for a Bearcats squad that held a brief 2-0 lead early on, but never again.
“Our defense knew they were a drive and kick offense,” O’Brien said. “They didn’t shoot the ball great, but we had our hands in their faces all game.
“Our defense has been good for a half here and there, but tonight it was good for the whole game. We made a couple shots in the third and we were pretty confident that they wouldn’t come back from the [double-digit deficit].”
St. Francis kept up the high-energy defense in the fourth quarter and prevented any sort of momentum for Bonita, while the Golden Knights offense struggled to score until the 4:20 mark when Leufroy glided in for a layup.
The junior guard, who garnered All-CIF honors last year, has led the team in scoring the previous three games of the La Canada Holiday Classic, with 15 in a pool-play win over Arcadia, and more recently 18 in a win over South Hills.
The third-ranked team in the latest CIF Southern Section Division 3A poll, St. Francis will look to Leufroy and look for the same defensive effort as it vies for the tournament championship.