LA CAÑADA — On an evening in which no particular member of the St. Francis High boys’ basketball team stood out, the Golden Knights’ defense instead took center stage in the championship game of the La Cañada Holiday Tournament versus visiting Mark Keppel.
St. Francis, which entered Saturday’s final at La Cañada High ranked third in Division III-A of the CIF Southern Section, held sharp-shooting Keppel to its second-lowest scoring game of the season in a 47-45 win.
“The chemistry is there and the defense is there,” St. Francis co-Coach Ray O’Brien said. “We worked on the defense first and figured we’d get the offense going later.”
Keppel (7-2), ranked 15th in Division I-A, entered averaging 60 points per game and had scored 69 versus Marina and 74 against Glendale in the first two games of tournament pool play action.
Yet, for as strong as the Golden Knights’ defense played, the Aztecs made a late surge that gave St. Francis a bit of a scare.
The Golden Knights (7-1) appeared to have the contest all wrapped up with 3:37 left when junior forward Markar Agakanian (10 points) just avoided traveling and hit a fall-away four-footer to put the home team ahead, 45-31.
From that point, Keppel clawed back with seven straight points, capped by a steal and two free throws from senior guard Adam Thompson (game-high 21 points) with 1:19 remaining that brought the Aztecs within 45-38.
The Aztecs then fouled, still two fouls short of forcing a one-plus-one bonus, before eventually sending Golden Knights sophomore guard Dylan Crawford to the line.
Crawford hit one free throw, which was countered by a running layup from Justine Saisho the other way with 32 seconds left that brought the score within two possessions at 46-40.
Four seconds later, St. Francis junior Michael Allen was sent to the line and hit one of two free throws to propel the Golden Knights to a seven-point lead.
In an interesting and perhaps game-changing decision, the Aztecs went for inside baskets and layup attempts instead of attempting three-pointers.
Keppel’s lone three-point attempt of the final minute came from Thompson with two seconds remaining, a make which cemented the final score of 47-45.
“I know we won, but this wasn’t our best tournament and this really wasn’t out best game,” said Golden Knights junior guard Kyle Leufroy, who scored 10 points and was named the tournament MVP. “I thought we played well as a team, especially on defense, but we should have won this game by a lot more.”
St. Francis led, 14-11, after one quarter and flexed its defensive muscles in a second quarter it won, 11-5, by holding the Aztecs to two-for-13 shooting (15%).
Up nine to begin the third quarter, the Golden Knights nudged their advantage to double-digits when Leufroy rebounded an Aztecs missed three-point field goal try and raced to the other side of the court and scored uncontested for a layup with 4:11 remaining, which put St. Francis up, 31-20.
While the Aztecs answered back with a three-pointer from Eric Vodicska to get within eight points, Keppel didn’t close any further until the final minutes of the game.
Crawford, who led St. Francis with 11 points, was named to the all-tournament squad along with Allen and Noah Willingford and Keppel’s trio of Thompson, Saisho and Bertram Mark.
“I think today anyone could have been the MVP,” Leufroy said. “I’ll take the award, but my teammates were working just as hard as I was. Our defense was our MVP tonight.”