Wolverines end five-game skid with dominant league win over St. Francis

Cole Jacobson

Wednesday night’s game marked a major transition for the Flintridge St. Francis basketball program; the Golden Knights played their first game in seven years without former Head Coach Jeff Stephens, who made headlines by resigning on Tuesday afternoon after a winless start to league play.

Thanks to the Harvard-Westlake varsity boys’ basketball team, the new era got off to a rocky start.

Behind 28 points and three assists from Alex Copeland ’15, and three more players in double-figure scoring, the Wolverines handily beat the Golden Knights (9-14 overall, 0-9 in Mission League) 77-55 on Wednesday, ending their own five-game losing streak in front of a large student crowd for the school’s “Senior Night” event.

As has been traditional in recent years, Harvard-Westlake started all of the team’s seniors for the ceremonial game, but the lineup changes didn’t prevent the Wolverines from jumping out to a big early lead. Behind the slashing of Copeland, who scored nine points in the first quarter, and strong jump shooting from Spencer Perryman ’15 (12 points on the night) and Ali Iken ’17 (11 points), Harvard-Westlake got out to a dominant start, leading 19-11 after the first quarter.

In the second frame, the Wolverines’ lead got as large as eleven, with the help of a dominant performance in the paint from Noah Gains ’15 — Gains had an impressive offensive night with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting, but was arguably even more valuable on the defensive side of the floor, recording 10 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks while holding Knight center (and first-team CIF-SS Southeast Division football selection) Brodie Felkel ’15 to four points. St. Francis got a spark off the bench from John Stephens ’16 — son of the recently departed coach — who scored 11 of his 18 points in the second quarter and helped cut the lead to four at one point in the first half, but a clutch last-possession three-pointer from Perryman, who went 4-for-5 from downtown in the game, put the Wolverines back up 38-28 entering the half.

While the third quarter spelled disaster in Monday’s 61-36 loss to Crespi, the story was completely different in Wednesday’s game. As Iken (3-for-8 from long range) and Perryman (seven assists) continued to convert, and the Wolverine guards led by Copeland (two steals) forced some turnovers from the Golden Knight offense, Harvard-Westlake put the game out of reach. The Wolverines dominated the third quarter with a 20-9 score to put the team up by 21 entering the fourth quarter, but weren’t done dismantling the Knights just yet.

Head Coach Greg Hilliard allowed his senior starters to continue playing into the fourth in honor of the “Senior Night” game, and they sealed the game by keeping up the intensity from the previous frame. Copeland, who shot 13-for-19 from the field, scored eight points in the first four minutes of the quarter while effortlessly getting to the basket, as the Wolverine lead got as large as 26 points before the starters finally headed to the bench for good.

However, even though the outcome was decided by this point, the game hadn’t reached its peak excitement yet.

As the Wolverines knew they were headed to victory in the fourth quarter, the offensive scheme turned from attacking the basket into finding Raymond Chung ’15 for three-point attempts — the only senior who had yet to score entering the fourth quarter. After a few close misses tantalized the Wolverine crowd, who had been anticipating Chung’s moment all game, Gabriel Jenkinson ’16 found the senior open in the left corner — Chung’s shot hit nothing but net, and sent the Fanatics into a frenzy with under a minute remaining. Fittingly, his points were the squad’s final ones of the night, as the team finished with an impressive 77-55 win to get back on track in league play.

Harvard-Westlake (12-11 overall, 4-6 in Mission League) next plays at home against Chaminade (17-7 overall, 4-5 in league) on Friday night in a pivotal game for both the league and playoff ranks. The winner of the game will move into 4th place in the Mission League, the last spot to get an automatic playoff berth. While both teams are essentially locks to make the playoffs anyway because of the league’s strength, an automatic berth would result in higher seeding, and since both teams are members of CIF-SS Division 4AA, Friday’s game could have a huge impact on the division’s eventual bracket. Harvard-Westlake won the first matchup between the teams 75-72 on Jan. 16, and is currently ranked 118th in California by MaxPreps, while the Eagles are currently 35th.