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Prep Football Preview Special
Brandon Ching | ScoringLiveFebruary 22, 2023, 8:39am
After losing their starters from last year's championship team to graduation, many wondered how Saint Louis would fare in the upcoming season.
The young Crusaders silenced the doubters and grew up throughout the course of the season to defeat Campbell, 41-39, to win back-to-back Heide & Cook/HHSAA Division I Boys Basketball State Championships.
Last year's starters Aiva Arquette (All-Hawaii POY), Hayden Bayudan (All-Hawaii First Team), AJ Bianco (All-Hawaii Third Team), Shoncin Revuelto (All-Hawaii Honorable Mention), and Cole Schmidt (All-Hawaii Third Team) helped Saint Louis win their first state championship since 1986.
"A lot of people doubted us that Saint Louis wasn't going to win this year. They all thought that the seniors graduated and we were young and we had to prove them wrong," point guard Shancin Revuelto said.
"It doesn't matter how old you are or doesn't matter your experience, it matters how much work you're going to put into it and what you're going to get out of it," center Jordan Posiulai added.
Four of the five returnees on last year's championship team had expanded roles this season. Pupualii Sepulona (sophomore), Revuelto (sophomore), Posiulai (junior), and Jiovanni Ramos (junior) were thrust into the starting lineup along with freshman Keanu Meacham.
"They're all special. I've never been a part of a team as young as this. I mean in grade. These guys, there was poise when they needed to be. That was the real maturation throughout the year. It was a young group of guys that really committed. Whatever they do in their lives, it's a testament to that. When you commit and work together, you can achieve anything," Saint Louis coach Dan Hale said.
"This win was so big. At the beginning of the season, no one thought Saint Louis would win a state championship. We were small, we were inexperienced. We proved the state wrong. We made an impact that Saint Louis is still on top," Sepulona said.
Saint Louis stacked up their preseason and faced teams across the state as well as out-of-state. The Crusaders played Campbell on Nov. 26 and won, 54-49. The Jim Alegre Invitational at Radford provided good competition and a trip to Kauai allowed the team to bond further.
Kohala coach Kihei Kapeliela came over postgame to congratulate coach Hale and both remarked how season-changing that trip was for their teams. Saint Louis edged the Cowboys, 45-42, at Kapaa on Dec. 10 and fast forward nearly two months later, both finished as state champions in their respective divisions.
"We were in Kauai and we talked about sacrificing and giving stuff up for our team and we followed God this year," Revuelto said.
"The guys committed and they said we can do this if we play together and stay as a unit. We do all the things we need to do. We had a great, great trip and since we came back from that trip, be real, guys were counting us out to not even to get out of the ILH. Whenever these guys' backs were against the wall, they came through. That was the story of our season. Even tonight, our backs were against the wall, Pupu is in foul trouble, what do we do? These guys never cease to amaze me. As a collective group, they're really special," Hale said.
Saint Louis participated in the Iolani Classic and faced national powerhouse Montverde (Florida) in the opening round and was overwhelmed 92-49, but Sepulona scored 27 in the loss. Despite the loss, Sepulona ranked that as one of his favorite basketball memories.
The Crusaders reached the Punahou Invitational final and lost 51-50 to Oakwood School (North Hollywood, California). Sepulona, who averaged 24.0 points in the tournament games, had a chance to win the game at the free throw line, but missed both shots at the end and it's a memory that still fueled him throughout the season.
Getting out of the ILH was anything but certain, but a 54-49 win over Maryknoll on Jan. 12 gave Saint Louis belief it can go far in the toughest league in the state. In that game, the Crusaders went up 16 going into the fourth quarter and held off a furious Spartan comeback in the end.
"They were tough games against a good team. You walk out winning and you do that a few times, guys start to believe," Hale said.
Saint Louis would go on to sweep Maryknoll in the season, 53-43, 33-30, and 41-36 to win the overall league title and seeded state tournament berth. The Crusaders' only losses of the season were to No. 8 Kamehameha on Jan.7, against No. 4 Punahou and No. 5 Iolani back-to-back, and another loss to the Buffanblu on Jan. 28 in the ILH tournament.
Chants of "All hail, Hale" rang from the student section and players for the coach that resurrected the program. Hale went 5-15 overall and 4-9 in the ILH his first season in 2019-20, but followed up with a 20-2 overall record (11-2 ILH) in 2022 and 27-7 overall (9-4 ILH) in 2023.
"They bought in and talked about goals and commitment. What it was going to take. They stepped up. The nice part now is they're doing a lot of the things we talked about earlier and we don't even have to remind them. Over the course of the season, you see that and you feel real good about their progress," Hale said.
Posiulai went off for a double-double, 16 points and 11 rebounds in their 51-48 quarterfinal win over Kailua. In the championship game, Posiulai completed two 3-point plays in the first half. When Sepulona was sent to the bench with two fouls late in the first quarter, the offense flowed to Posiulai, who scored 10 of his 11 in the first half and he held down the fort in the middle.
"I think it was them pushing me in the fire and I had to show up," Posiulai said. "That's something I have to do. I was scared a little bit, but it's not the first time I had to do this. We have to look at all of us, it's not just one person."
Meacham scored a career-high 14 points against Iolani on Jan. 21 when Sepulona was in foul trouble. He scored seven (2-for-2 from the field) and knocked down a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left to put Saint Louis up, 40-37 in crunch time.
"I have a lot of fun contributing to this team and I had a lot of help from my boys. It's been a journey and a fun time," Meacham said.
Revuelto was the floor general and guided the Saint Louis offense. His ball handling and vision got him out of tight situations when teams increase the pressure. If he's not scoring, he's facilitating to finish with nine assists in three state tournament games. On defense, he came up with nine total steals. It was fitting, he was able to alter an inbounds pass that resulted in a turnover to end the game.
"I know people are starting to recognize. From a basketball standpoint, what you see what Shancin is doing, he makes it look easy because he's doing his thing. But he's going against the best defenders in the entire state. He's bringing it up every time and he's getting us where we need to be. He's connecting with me on what we want to run. Defensively, the hands, it's really appropriate he made the last play because that's what he's been doing. I can't say enough about him and his development this year," Hale remarked.
Sepulona made the biggest jump, increasing his scoring output from 4.8 points per game as a freshman to leading the ILH with 17.2 points per game. He scored a career-high 29 in a loss to Punahou on Jan. 19. He scored 20 in the quarterfinal round against the Surfriders and followed up with 21 against Moanalua in the semis. Despite early foul trouble, Sepulona scored his team-high 15 in the second half.
"He's the real deal. This kid is awesome," Campbell coach Wyatt Tau said of Sepulona.
"I think it's really time. I've known Pupu since elementary school and I know how he plays and he knows how I play so we work off each other," Posiulai.
Sepulona missed only one free throw the entire game. He hit a pair to put Saint Louis up, 38-34, their largest lead of the game with 36 seconds remaining. Posiulai was 5-for-8 from the line and hit one of two for a 41-39 lead that held up until the final buzzer.
"He shot about a hundred free throws before the game. Jordan (Posiulai) did too. They're action guys and did what they needed to do," Hale said.
As the clock hit triple zero, Sepulona fell to the floor on his hands and knees near the baseline overcome emotion. After gathering himself, he wanted to give credit where credit was due.
"I'm proud of my boys. This win was for them. I give all the credit to them and it's not just me. I have to make the sacrifice and when I get double teamed, I pass it to them and they do their job and I'm so proud of them overall," Sepulona said.
That is what the Brotherhood is all about.
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