St. Francis High basketball begins state playoff ride
Basketball: Golden Knights to make inaugural appearance in state tournament and will face San Diego Kearny in first-round matchup.
St. Francis High's Noah Willerford (left) and his teammates are hoping to bounce back from a loss in Friday's CIF-SS Division III-A championship game with a victory in the first round of the state playoffs. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
It’s something that’s welcomed by the Golden Knights, perhaps eliminating some of the sting from a heart-breaking defeat against Oak Park in the Division III-A contest.
“The players are excited and it will help get the bad taste out of their mouths after the loss to Oak Park,” said St. Francis co-Coach Ray O’Brien, whose 11th-seeded Golden Knights (19-12) will travel nearly 140 miles to meet sixth-seeded San Diego Kearny (25-2) in a CIF State Division III first-round game at 7 p.m. Wednesday. “It will be a great experience to be able to take part in a state game.
“We know the competition will get even tougher. We know we are going up against a very good team. We will come out with a lot of energy.”
St. Francis fell to Oak Park, 60-53, on Friday at Azusa Pacific University’s Felix Event Center. Kearny captured the CIF San Diego Section Division III championship Friday with a 73-58 victory against Sweetwater at the University of San Diego’s Jenny Craig Pavilion. The Komets, who won their first CIF title since 1979, have won 19 games in a row.
The winner will face either third-seeded Rancho Santa Margarita (23-8) or 14th-seeded Bakersfield Independence in a second-round contest Saturday.
O’Brien, who shares the coaching responsibilities with Jeff Stephens, said St. Francis will have a tough draw.
“They’ve won  games in a row,” O’Brien said. “We know they have some height.”
St. Francis has been led by junior guard Kyle Leufroy, who finished with a game-high 26 points against Oak Park. Providing support for Leufroy, a reigning All-Area second-team selection, will be forwards Noah Willerford and Evan Crawford and guard Michael Allen.
Crawford, who contributed eight points, 11 rebounds and six assists against Oak Park, said the Golden Knights are eager to compete again.
“It’s definitely exciting to get back out on the court after a tough loss,” Crawford said. “We are looking forward to playing another good team.
“We know we still have a good team and we know we have to keep our heads straight and be ready.”
O’Brien said the Golden Knights will be without starting junior forward John Carroll, who sustained an ankle injury last week in practice. Carroll did not play against Oak Park.
The Komets will turn to senior post David Moa, who registered 19 points and 18 rebounds against Sweetwater. Kearny will also feature junior forward Austin Knox, sophomore guard Takoda Browne and junior wing/guard Xavier Browne. Knox had 16 points against Sweetwater, while Takoda Browne and Xavier Browne contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The Southern California regional title game will take place March 22 at Colony High in Ontario. The state title game will be held March 28 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.