Sabers squeak by Surfriders, Set Up Championship Rematch with West-leading Mililani

By: Paul Brecht

ALIAMANU — Josh Ellis stepped to the line with just under five seconds remaining in regulation and the score tied, 49-49, for a pair of free throws and a berth in the OIA Division I championship game on the line. 

The junior guard calmly cashed in both, as the Campbell Sabers (22-5, 11-1) took down the previously-unbeaten Kailua Surfriders (20-5, 11-1), 51-49. 

The victory for lower-seeded Campbell came on the back of an ultimate team effort, as the Sabers were without the services of leading scorer and captain Rondell Blenman-Villarreal. The combo guard was ruled out with an ankle injury suffered in the final minutes of Campbell’s quarterfinal win over Moanalua. 

A back-and-forth affair all evening, the two squads gave each other their best shot right from the tip-off. 

While senior Jonny Philbrick came into the night averaging 22 points per game, it was Kailua freshman Maddox Pung pacing the Surfriders early. The guard notched seven points in an opening quarter that saw the two teams end it just as it began: knotted together with no advantage either way. 

While the scoring workload of Kailua fell on the shoulders of just two players to begin, it was a full team effort by Campbell in the absence of Blenman-Villarreal. Six different Sabers scored in the first frame, showing off the full unit’s ability to contribute. 

Entering the second quarter tied at 15, each squad looked to non-usual suspects to try and break away.  

Campbell coach Wyatt Tau saw junior forward Miles Hornage provide a nice first half boost, as the bigger wing put the ball on the deck and added six first-half points for the Sabers. Kailua’s Wally Marciel used his coaching cranium and went to the bench for freshman sharpshooter Dylan Kunz, who rewarded his coach’s confidence in him with a pair of triples to close out the half.

Despite the different contributions from each team, Kailua and Campbell entered the locker rooms tied at 26.

Kailua saw the first “quarter win” in the third, as the Surfriders got a nice helping hand from junior Noa Donnelly. The big man’s presence on the offensive glass made for easy second-chance points, with the center chipping in seven points in the period. 

Sabers’ second-leading scorer Mizah Carreira finally got going in the third, scoring 8 of his 13 total points in the frame. Kailua limited other Campbell players seeing time to just two points in the entire quarter, as the Surfriders entered the final eight minutes up, 39-36.  

It was Campbell who would come out of the final quarter break hot though, as the Sabers raced ahead of Kailua behind the hot hands of Josh Ellis and Malik Jackson. Ellis drilled a 3-pointer to open his second-half scoring and Jackson chipped in three tough buckets in the fourth quarter before fouling out with under two minutes remaining as the Sabers sprinted ahead.

Kailua was forced to foul, putting Campbell in the bonus for the remainder of the game. The strategy proved effective for the first two one-and-one opportunities, as the Sabers missed the front end each time. 

Following an Ellis miss from the line, Kailua’s Philbrick laced a triple from the top of the key to tie the game at 49-all with ten seconds remaining.

Tau opted to not use his final timeout, just allowing the Sabers to play through the final possession. Ellis, who had just missed a free throw moments earlier, was fouled with 4.2 seconds remaining and headed to the line for a pair of free throws that could send his team to the OIA Division I championship game.

The miss was rare for Ellis, who shot 86% from the free throw line during league play.

He proved that on the ensuing free throws, knocking them down to give the Sabers a 51-49 lead that they would not relinquish. 

Philbrick heaved off a prayer of a shot just before the buzzer, but it was no good.

Kailua was led by Philbrick, who notched 14 points to go along with six assists. Kunz chipped in 11 points on three 3-pointers off the bench, while Pung and Donnelly each had nine points in the semifinal loss.

Campbell was led by Jackson, who had 14 points and five rebounds before fouling out. Carreira added 13 points on 6-12 shooting for the Sabers, and Ellis ended with nine points on the night. Campbell now looks ahead to the OIA Division I championship, where they will look to avenge the lone league loss of the season against the West’s top seed, Mililani. 

The OIA Division I and II championships will be broadcast live Wednesday night with Div. II tip off around 5:30 PM HST. Catch all the action with us on 95.1 FM/760 AM /hawaiisportsradio.com 

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