The term “elimination” has taken on a different meaning for the St. Francis Saints.
Last month, the school announced that it would close down from grades seven to 12 next academic year. That means each elimination game, like the one St. Francis won last Thursday against Mid-Pacific, could mean not just the end of the season. It could be the end of the program, and the Saints seem to have taken that to heart.
St. Francis improved to 2-0 with its boys basketball varsity program on the line after beating host ‘Iolani 57-46 on Monday night.
The Saints (8-7) finished third in the ILH tournament with the win over ‘Iolani (8-7), which placed third in the regular season. That sets up a winner-take-all game for the league’s final Division I state berth on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at ‘Iolani.
“This is what we were hoping for. We didn’t want to give that third spot to ‘Iolani,” St. Francis coach Ron Durant said. “We wanted to get that third spot and we’ve got a battle on Wednesday.”
Senior Kameron Ng poured in 20 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter to help the Saints beat the Raiders after losing twice to ‘Iolani in the regular season.
Ng, who led the Saints to back-to-back Division II state titles in 2017 and ’18, is thrilled at the opportunity to reach the Division I state tournament.
“This will be the biggest game of all of our high school careers,” Ng said. “We’re not going to take it likely. Getting back to the state tournament would prove all of the doubters wrong that we are not just a Division II team.”
After giving up an average of 68.5 points to ‘Iolani in the two regular-season losses, St. Francis held ‘Iolani to 46 points and just 4-for-28 shooting rom 3-point range.
Sam Wheeler hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter for ‘Iolani’s only six points and the Raiders connected on just two more from long range the rest of the game.
“That was probably our best defensive game we’ve played our whole season,” Ng said. “We made them work for every shot. Luckily they weren’t hitting from the outside. Next game we can’t count on that. We’ve got to pick up the defense even more.”
Noah Bumanglag’s jumper and Kawika Lee’s two free throws helped the Raiders close the third quarter on a 10-4 run to cut the lead to 34-31.
Ng took over, as he has most of the season for the Saints. He hit a tough shot on the baseline and then converted an and-1 floater inside the paint to push the Saints’ lead back up to 39-31.
He closed it out at the free-throw line shooting 10-for-13 over the final six minutes to win comfortably.
“My teammates told me to go finish it for us and that’s what I did,” Ng said.
Lee was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line for a game-high 16 points for ‘Iolani.
“I just felt we matched up well with ‘Iolani,” Durant said. “We played them tough at our house the last time so I think we knew what we had. Between Kordel (Ng) and Kameron, I didn’t have to tell them much.”
Everyone knows what’s at stake on Wednesday.