Game one of the Sol Batoon era worked out quite well for the Saint Louis Crusaders.
Jalen Smith scored 20 points, including a go-ahead layup with a minute left, as Saint Louis pulled out a 56-54 win over Leilehua on Wednesday afternoon at the James Alegre Invitational.
The Mules trailed 26-25 at intermission, but the Crusaders used fullcourt pressure to spring a 10-1 run. Leilehua rallied late with six consecutive points by Liam Fitzgerald. Noah Park then hit a corner 3, stole a pass and hit a wing 3 to tie the game at 53 with less than 2 minutes remaining.
Smith then scored on a fastbreak layup. Fitzgerald, who was quiet for most of the contest, hit a foul shot with 13.5 seconds left, but missed the potential game-tying FT and Leilehua trailed 55-54.
Smith then sank a free throw with 3.9 seconds left for the final margin of victory. A halfcourt shot by Park at the buzzer missed off the backboard.
Chris Sykes added six points for the tall Crusaders.
“The kids hung in there, but we were a little sloppy,” said Batoon, who previously guided St. Francis to its first Division II state championship. “I like the we way pressed. Noa (Purcell), Isaac (Silva), Trey (Taba). Junior (Wily) was able to pressure his man.”
Fitzgerald finished with 16 points after scoring just four in the first half. Coach Russ Fitzgerald played his roster freely and get defensive sparks from several Mules including guard Genesis Ofoia, who scored 10 points. Park also finished with 10 points.
With a tall lineup, Batoon has the luxury of moving Sykes from the post to the wing.
“Normally, Chris is a 4 or 5, so he’s learning to play the 2 and 3. He’s got a nice shot,” Batoon said.
The Crusaders have managed four practices as a full team, Batoon said. The football team won the state title two weeks ago, and several players participated in the JPS Senior Classic last weekend.
“We had Thanksgiving weekend, and we have to battle with Chaminade (University) using our court,” Batoon said.