By Michael DUMANSKY
The St. Francis Golden Knights took another leap forward toward a CIF state championship crown on Tuesday night when they defeated the Roosevelt Mustangs 53-44.
“It’s amazing, all the work we have put in this gym – it just feels great to walk out on a high note,” said St. Francis senior basketball captain Jason Gallant. “We are not done, we still have one more, and right now we have to process it and focus in and get ready to play one of [our] biggest games.”
Heading into the fourth quarter on Tuesday the Golden Knights held a lead of 42-38. But the Mustangs were eager to respond and Brandon Porter did by nailing a three-pointer followed by a free throw by Paul Ezeanyim that cut the lead to 46-44 with 1:34 left in the game. UCI commit, Golden Knight Andre Henry, came down the court and converted the bucket plus the foul to extend the lead 49-44. With the game-changing offensive possession in the hands of the Golden Knights, it was the moment for Coach Todd Wolfson’s team to move forward. Senior Guard Fred Harper, who added 13 points on the night, grabbed a missed shot and laid it in for a 51-44 lead with 44 seconds left to play.
“I was at the top of the key and I saw the ball getting swung around,” Harper said. “We took the shot and they left me to double team their best rebounders. I saw the shot coming and it bounced off the rim to me and I made the easy layup.”
When the regional trophy ceremony was complete as the cheers of the fans poured down upon the players, a ladder was brought out and placed underneath the basket. Each player then took a piece of the net as a reminder of all they had worked for, symbolizing all that the team has sacrificed and put in their blood, sweat and tears for this basketball season.
For the St. Francis seniors, this was the final time playing in their home gym. Though an emotional time they knew it was the way they wanted to go out. As for Henry, being the all-time leading scorer in Golden Knight basketball history and leading his team to its first state playoff game, the moment perhaps was defined by one question: Did he consider himself, as did many others, that he was the greatest Golden Knight basketball player of all time?
“I don’t know if I would agree with that,” he replied. “There have been a lot of players [who] have been excellent before me, but I feel like the coaches gave me the key to the car.”
Henry and his squad will travel to the Golden One Center in Sacramento to face Weston Ranch in the CIF state championship game on March 14 at 4 p.m.