St. Francis High basketball tops Kearny in state tournament debut

It didn’t take long for the St. Francis High basketball team to recover from a heartbreaking defeat in the CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship contest.

The Golden Knights quickly began the next chapter of the most successful season in the program’s history by traveling nearly 140 miles to face San Diego Kearny on Wednesday for a CIF State CIF State Division III first-round game. It marked the first time St. Francis had taken part in the prestigious tournament.

Backed by a balanced scoring attack, including a team-high 17 points from Kyle Leufroy, 11th-seeded St. Francis posted a 67-62 victory against sixth-seeded Kearny.

St. Francis, which fell in the final minute to Oak Park, 60-53, in the Division III-A contest on Friday at Azusa Pacific University, improved to 20-12 and will travel to face third-seeded Rancho Santa Margarita (24-8) on Saturday in a second-round contest. Kearny, which captured the CIF San Diego Section Division III title and entered Wednesday’s game riding a 19-game winning streak, finished 25-3.

“It’s a great experience to be a part of the state tournament and the guys were ready to get back at it after losing to Oak Park,” said St. Francis co-Coach Ray O’Brien, who shares the coaching responsibilities with Jeff Stephens. “We were able to get a balanced scoring attack.

“They were bigger than us, but we were able to pretty much keep them off the boards. It came down to making some big shots in the fourth quarter.”

The Golden Knights got 12 points from Markar Agakanian, 10 from Evan Crawford, nine from Noah Willerford and six from Jack Ruder. Michael Allen contributed eight assists for the Golden Knights.

Crawford made a three-pointer to give St. Francis a 60-52 advantage with 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“That was probably the biggest basket of the game because we had been stalling a little bit at that time,” said O’Brien, whose team held a 33-27 halftime lead.

Leufroy, a reigning All-Area second-team honoree, scored 13 second-half points despite battling an ankle injury he sustained early in the first quarter against Oak Park.

Leufroy, who had 11 fourth-quarter points, said the Golden Knights were eager to resume competition.

“I thought we came out very hungry,” said Leufroy, who contributed eight rebounds. “We felt like we had a lot of confidence coming into the game.

“We were able to get a lot of good efforts and Evan made some big shots.”

O’Brien said the Golden Knights were prepared for the Komets.

“We knew a little bit about them,” O’Brien said. “I think one of the things that helped us was that we could draw from our experiences from being in the Mission League.

“We were the lower seed coming in, so that took some of the pressure off our shoulders.”

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