LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — While yet to find itself on the losing side of as game this season, the St. Francis High basketball team is still constantly looking for improvement.
After it took a late run for the Golden Knights to post a six-point win over struggling Glendale in the pool-play opener of the La Cañada Holiday Classic, they looked to make their move earlier when they took on Marina in another pool-play matchup on Wednesday.
After escaping the first period with a five-point lead, St. Francis, which is ranked fifth in CIF Southern Section Division 3-A, really took off in the second, where it pushed the lead into double-digits for good en route to a comfortable 72-52 win.
"We had a close game with Glendale the other day and we just wanted to make sure we didn't have another lulled game like that," said St. Francis forward Noah Willerford, who tied for the team lead in points with Evan Crawford with 16. "We wanted to come out here and score quickly and step on their throat as soon as we could and kind of coast to a win, like we did today."
It was Crawford pacing the Golden Knights (6-0) early, hitting on his first five attempts from the field, including all four of his shots in the first quarter.
"Once we got the lead, we just tried to keep it because the last couple games we haven't really been able to keep that lead," said Crawford, who made eight out of 10 shots on the day and finished with six rebounds and four assists. "We've let teams that we feel are worse than us stay in the game and we really tried to focus on that."
Marina (3-4) made a push to cut the Golden Knights' lead to three early in the second, but John Carroll hit a three-pointer and Willerford answered with back-to-back three-pointers to put St. Francis ahead, 29-19, with 3:30 left in the first half.
Kyle Leufroy, who came off the bench to score 14 points and dish out four assists, banked in a floater late in the second quarter to send St. Francis to the break up, 41-25.
"We have a lot of talent, but they're young, so there are stretches in every game where we look sensational and then there's stretches in every game where we look like we've never coached them before," St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien said. "That's just something we're going to have to be patient with.
"They're unselfish, they play hard, but they've got to get seasoned. Overall, I thought their effort level was good."
Leufroy knocked down a three-point shot with 3:50 left in the third period to push the lead over 20 at 49-27.
St. Francis, which also got eight points from Markar Aghakanian, was only really outdone by Marina in one facet — getting to the free-throw line. The Vikings made 20 of 25 free throws compared to just seven of 10 for St. Francis.
"We fouled them too many times," O'Brien said. "We've got to stop fouling. That's just what young kids do. They're overly aggressive, rather than respecting their opponent and just playing the kind of defense that we need them to play, but that will come with time."