By: Wes Nakama
For the Saint Louis basketball team, winning the Heide & Cook/HHSAA state championship again was not easier the second time around. But it might have been sweeter.
A year after capturing the school’s first state title since 1986, the youthful Crusaders held off stubborn Campbell, 41-39, Friday night to secure the Kalaepohaku campus’ first back-to-back crowns since the famous three-peat of 1966-67-68.
A loud, spirited and often raucous crowd of 3,505 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Pupu Sepulona score 15 points and Jordan Posiulai add 11 points as the Crusaders finished the season at 27-7. Miles Hornage scored 15 points to lead the Sabers, who finished their historic season at 25-6 after their first-ever state championship game appearance.
Campbell got to within one point at 40-39 after Joshua Ellis’ layup with 16 seconds remaining, then fouled junior center Posiulai, sending him to the line for the two-shot bonus with seven seconds on the clock. Posiulai made the first but missed the second, and after a non-shooting foul, the Sabers got to inbound the ball near halfcourt for the final play with four ticks left.
But a crosscourt pass was tipped and then Ellis stepped out of bounds after chasing it down, giving Saint Louis possession with less than a second remaining. After completing a long inbounds pass, the horn sounded and Sepulona fell to his knees in emotion while his teammates leaped into celebration.
“Aw, man, it was just surreal,” said Sepulona, a burly but surprisingly agile 6-foot-2 sophomore forward. “I was just so happy, I was just speechless. I’m just proud that we won this game — everybody did their part, everybody rebounded, everybody scored, everybody took charges, everybody passed the ball to each other to get the easy bucket. I’m just so proud of my boys.”
It certainly was not an easy climb back to the summit, all the way down to the final second.
Sepulona picked up his second foul with 2:18 remaining in the first period and sat out the remainder of the half, which was a tight affair with neither team leading by more than four points. It was tied at 12-12 after one quarter, and the second ended with Campbell ahead, 22-21, after Ellis swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key just five seconds before the halftime horn.
With Sepulona now back in the game, the Crusaders opened the second half with a 9-2 run to build the game’s biggest lead at 30-24 after Shancin Revuelto’s steal and fast break layup with 4:39 remaining in the third period. But Hornage answered with a jumper 20 seconds later to ignite an 8-2 surge to end the quarter tied at 32-32.
Sepulona sank three of four free throws to start the fourth period and later swished two more free throws to push Saint Louis ahead, 38-34, but Malik Johnson drained a 3-pointer from near the top of the key to close it to 38-37 with 22.7 seconds on the clock. The Sabers then fouled Keanu Meacham and sent the freshman guard to the free throw line with 20.8 ticks left.
Meacham swished both attempts to make it 40-37.
“I called that (inbounds) play for him, because he is one of our best free throw shooters and I knew he would be up for the challenge,” Crusaders coach Dan Hale said.
Campbell quickly advanced the ball and scored on Ellis’ layup four seconds later, but those would be the last points for the Sabers, who entered the tournament as OIA champion for the first time in school history.
“I tip my hat to them,” Sabers coach Wyatt Tau said of Saint Louis. “They’re a good team, they’re physical. We just had a hard time moving around in our zone. It’s over, we lost the game, but I don’t know how we can say we lost, because we had such good memories. It’s our first time here, and I’m so happy for our guys. I’m so proud to be their coach.”
For Saint Louis, the prospects for a repeat this season did not look so great after losing several key starters to graduation. But with a young starting lineup of two juniors, two sophomores and one freshmen, the Crusaders survived the gaunlet of a competitive ILH season and three tough challenges from OIA teams in this week’s tournament.
“It was tough, the teams we just played — Kailua, Moanalua and to top it off with this Campbell team playing at a very high level,” Hale said. “It’s a testament to our guys and their resilience, we just hung in there. Even when we got down, they lifted each other up, and you know you got a good team when that’s happening. They’re young, but they’re mature in a lot of ways.”
Photos: Lori McKeown
Mahalo to City Mill for sponsoring our high school basketball photo gallery and for supporting Hawaii sports.