Hot start propels Lancers to win

Photo By: Shirley Pefley/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Shirley Pefley/Special To The Town Crier

St. Francis High’s Nicholas Keyes scored eight points in Friday’s CCS Division II final.

After finishing second to last in league and 9-16 overall, the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs provided the St. Francis High boys basketball team a second chance at success. The Lancers took full advantage of it, defeating Willow Glen 56-46 in Friday’s title game.

Being the lone team from the rugged West Catholic Athletic League in Division II proved beneficial to third-seeded St. Francis, which beat three public schools by double-digit points in CCS.

“It helps a lot,” said senior guard Khalid Johnson, who scored 15 points in Friday’s final. “We played some of the top competition in Northern California and we’re in one of the hardest leagues, so we’re seeing tough competition every single night. You’ve got to bring it every single night, and that’s what we did – and now were on top in Division II.”

The Lancers (12-16) were on top of No. 4 Willow Glen (22-7) almost the entire way and never trailed.

Johnson nailed a 3-pointer for the game’s first basket and hit another trey after the Rams tied the score. The senior then converted a layup off a pass from Nicholas Keyes – who came up with a steal – to give St. Francis an 8-3 edge with 5:35 left in the opening quarter.

The lead grew from there. Guard Mike Lauck, who led the Lancers with 17 points, drained back-to-back 3s in the next minute and a half to put his team up 14-3.

St. Francis’ 20-12 lead at quarter’s end resembled its fast start against No. 2 Leigh in the semifinals Feb. 26. The Lancers jumped to a 23-16 advantage that night and prevailed 69-55.

Both games took place at Santa Clara High, a recently renovated and well-lit gym that clearly agreed with St. Francis.

“I don’t know what it is about this gym, but I just feel like I can’t miss here. I think all us feel we can’t miss,” Johnson said. “This is the best I’ve ever seen us shoot. We all love this gym.”

Johnson made three of his four shots from beyond the arc and his team finished nine of 18. Coach Mike Motil hasn’t seen his team shoot any better this season.

“We’ve been making shots here, so we like this gym,” he said. “Maybe Santa Clara will let us come play here next year.”

The Lancers cooled off in the second and third quarters, but they never let the Rams warm up. Willow Glen took seven 3s in each of those periods and missed them all.

“We talked about defensively just trying to wear them out,” Motil said of the Rams, who finished 2 for 21 from 3-point range (9.5 percent). “That’s why we picked (them) up in the full court early on.”

St. Francis’ 11-point lead to start the fourth quarter ballooned to 47-33 with 6:10 left on a trey by Keyes and two free throws from Khalil Johnson. The senior guards totaled eight and seven points, respectively.

Willow Glen didn’t get closer than 10 points the rest of the way.

The Lancers’ next stop: the Northern California playoffs. They are scheduled to open at home against Montgomery (23-8) of Santa Rosa 7 p.m. today.

“We’ve got to have the same mentality (in NorCal) – the not-going-to-lose mentality,” Khalid Johnson said. “The next time we lose will be our last game. We’re going to work hard every practice and make the season last as long as we can.”

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