In its first state tournament appearance, the St. Francis High basketball team defeated a CIF section champion. Another balanced scoring attack might put the Golden Knights in position to accomplish the feat again.
The task might be considerably taller for 11th-seeded St. Francis, which will travel to meet third-seeded Rancho Santa Margarita in a CIF State Division III second-round game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Golden Knights, who finished runner-up in the CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship game against Oak Park, opened the state tournament Wednesday with a 67-62 road win against sixth-seeded San Diego Kearny. Santa Margarita, which captured the CIF Southern Section Division III-AA title against Brea Olinda, started off its state journey with a 64-51 home victory against 14th-seeded Bakersfield Independence.
"We know they have a nice resume of success," said St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien, who divides the coaching chores with Jeff Stephens. "We know they are an experienced team with a lot of seniors and they have a lot of height.
"It gets tougher as you go along. At this stage, we are playing teams in higher [section] divisions. We've demonstrated that we can play with many of these teams."
The Golden Knights (20-12) received 17 points and eight rebounds from Kyle Leufroy to knock off Kearny, which won the CIF San Diego Section Division III crown. They also 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.
"We've learned that we can't just rely on one person to do most of the scoring," O'Brien said. "We were able to get others involved and that's when you have success in close games.
"We feel if we can play our best, then it will be a close game."
Santa Margarita (24-8) has won six games in a row. The Eagles have been led by senior forward Joe Furstinger and senior guard Devonte Klines. The 6-8 Furstinger is averaging 13.8 rebounds, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Klines is averaging 5.3 assists and 2.2 steals per contest.
While the Eagles figure to have a height advantage in most positions, Leufroy said the Golden Knights are used to being at a disadvantage.
"We've played teams in our league who have a lot of height," Leufroy said. "It's going to come down to limiting them to one shot and us being ready to move quick to the rim on our chances.
"We've watched film of them and they are a good team. Everybody you play in state is good."
The winner of the St. Francis-Santa Margarita contest will take on second-seeded Cathedral (23-5) or 10th-seeded La Mirada (22-10) in a regional semifinal game Tuesday.
Other second-round matchups in the Southern California portion of the bracket will feature top-seeded Chaminade (23-6) against ninth-seeded Santa Barbara (26-3) and fourth-seeded Brea Olinda (24-10) against fifth-seeded Oak Park (22-10).