MISSION HILLS — For quite some time, the members of the St. Francis High basketball team had things in control and appeared on the verge of registering another gigantic victory.
The Golden Knights were solid on both sides of the court, giving powerful Alemany all it could handle.
Unfortunately for St. Francis, a last-second three-point shot by Noah Willerford came up just short in a heartbreaking 78-76 Mission League road defeat Wednesday night.
St. Francis (14-7, 3-4 in league) suffered arguably its toughest defeat of the season in league and saw Alemany (15-7, 5-2) mount a furious comeback in the second half to complete the two-game season sweep.
Willerford, who played a huge role in helping St. Francis record a 54-46 league home win against Chaminade on Monday, nearly won it for the Knights (ranked fourth in the latest CIF Southern Section Division III-A poll).
Alemany's Brandon Boyd made a free throw to give the Warriors a 78-76 lead with 3.5 seconds remaining. Alemany and St. Francis then called timeouts, respectively, before the Golden Knights needed to go full court in an attempt to tie or win the contest. Willerford took the inbound pass near midcourt and took two quick dribbles before his shot grazed the side of the rim.
“I saw that I had an opening and could get off a good shot,” said Willerford, who finished with 12 points. “It just came up a little short.
“We try those plays a lot in practice. We are proud of the way we played and this was a great test.”
St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien said the Golden Knights put forth a valiant effort after suffering a lopsided 65-36 home defeat against the Warriors, ranked third in Division I-A, on Jan. 8.
“I thought we played much, much better this time against Alemany,” said O'Brien, who received 26 points from Kyle Leufroy and 17 from Evan Crawford. “It's disappointing to lose, but we weren't disappointed with our effort.
“We made Alemany have to play that well. Noah had a decent look on the last shot, but we missed on some earlier opportunities.”
St. Francis held a 39-30 halftime advantage, wrapping it up on a layup by Crawford at the buzzer.
Alemany stayed within earshot of St. Francis in the third quarter, pulling to within 60-59.
John Carroll of St. Francis made a three-pointer from the right side to give the Golden Knights a 70-65 lead with 5:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors chipped away at the deficit and took a 73-72 lead on a three-pointer by Boyd, who finished with a team-best 25 points. Crawford scored on a shot in the paint to pull the Golden Knights to within 77-76 with 56 seconds to go.
Alemany and St. Francis then had turnovers on their next possessions before Boyd made one of two free throws.
“We can easily learn from this game and correct a few things,” Willerford said. “We'll be ready for our next game.”
The Golden Knights competed without Dylan Crawford. O'Brien said Crawford sustained a knee injury during practice Tuesday and could miss two to four weeks.
St. Francis will next compete at 7 p.m. Monday against visiting Crespi in a league game.