St. Louis Supreme: Crusaders Take Down Campbell to Complete Title Defense

By: Paul Brecht

MANOA — There would be no drought this time.

When the St. Louis boys’ basketball team beat Mililani last season in the HHSAA championship, it broke a 36-year long streak since the last Crusaders state title.

Led by sophomore sensation Pupualii “Pupu” Sepulona, St. Louis would make sure there would not be a wait between titles this time. 

Facing off against the third OIA opponent in three days, the Crusaders staved off a late comeback try by the Campbell Sabers to win the HHSAA Division I championship, 41-39, for the school’s second title in as many seasons.

Campbell held on to an early lead, using junior Miles Hornage’s hot touch to get going. While the rest of the offense was slow to warm up, the Sabers defense flustered St. Louis early on.

The Crusaders eventually settled in, following the game plan that had helped get St. Louis to the championship in the first place. The ILH champions followed the lead of the six-foot-three-inch Sepulona on offense while starting to lock things down on the defensive end. 

“We knew they were good and talked about how [Campbell] had played at a high level,” St. Louis coach Dan Hale said postgame. “We just talked about doing the things that we did that got us here. We focused on our defense, we focused on finding our guys in the right positions. We had some adversity, [Sepulona] gets fouls, we have to sit him, but the other guys stepped up and kept it close.” 

Campbell continued to fight, entering halftime with a one-point lead thanks to a Josh Ellis 3-pointer just before the horn.

Coming out of the halftime break, Sepulona scored six straight points in the third quarter before picking up his third foul of the night to help increase the Crusaders lead to six, 32-26.  

Just as it looked like St. Louis would start to pull away, a 6-0 Campbell run to end the period knotted things back up at 32-32 with a quarter left to play. The run, punctuated by a buzzer-beating Malik Jackson layup, sent the Sabers faithful into a frenzy as the game entered the final frame. 

In the fourth, the Crusaders once again featured their sophomore forward down low. Moving the ball around the perimeter before entering it into the post to Sepulona, St. Louis drained the clock down while still putting points on the board. The big man, while struggling to get shots down low to go, was successful in getting to the free throw line to propel the offense.

“It was the defense and [Sepulona] that got us here,” Hale chuckled postgame. “He’s a phenomenal talent. He can do things, contort himself and shoot shots at different angles, and we needed every single one of those things to beat [Campbell]. That team is really good, my hat is off to them.”  

After another pair of Sepulona free throws gave the Crusaders a four-point lead with just under 30 seconds to go, Jackson hit an off-balance three-pointer at the other end of the floor to cut the Campbell deficit to one, 38-37, with 22.7 seconds to go.

St. Louis would hit both free throws on the ensuing possession to go back up by three, but an Ellis layup with five seconds to go cut it to one, 40-39, and saw the Sabers hopes remain alive.

Crusaders’ junior center Jordan Posiulai went to the line looking to put the ILH champions up by three, but missed the first free throw before hitting the second one to take a 41-39 lead. A tipped pass following a Campbell timeout would spell the end for the OIA Division I champions, as St. Louis completed the 2022 title defense in style by following it up with another championship in 2023.  

Hornage led the Sabers with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Jackson had 7 points in the loss, while Ellis chipped in 5 points off the bench as Campbell closes a fantastic season with an overall record of 25-6.

St. Louis was led by Sepulona’s 15 points, most of which came in the second half after the sophomore big man dealt with first half foul trouble. Posiulai contributed 11 points and four rebounds as the Crusaders won their second consecutive state championship.

It is the first time St. Louis won consecutive state titles since the 1966 through 1968 seasons, when the program won three straight state championships. It is the Crusaders’ eighth state championship in program history.

photos by Alan Velasco

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