The anguish was clearly visible.
It was, in the end, a painful close to what had been, at one point, a dreamy baseball season for the Saint Louis Crusaders (11-7). That is the reality of athletics in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, where as many as five teams were ranked in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 this spring. For Saint Louis, a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Punahou left that cherished second state-tournament berth just out of reach.
It was a season of hot and cold spells for Saint Louis. After a regular-season opening loss to Kamehameha, a six-game win streak, followed by back-to-back losses, a win and a loss, then four wins in a row to give chase to Mid-Pacific into the stretch run.
By the poll:
> Week 1 — The Crusaders open the regular season at No. 3 behind Mid-Pacific and Mililani, just ahead of Punahou
> Week 2 — Saint Louis rises to No. 2, trailing only No. 1 Mililani
> Week 3 — The unbeaten Crusaders rise to No. 1, outpointing another surging program, Pearl City. Saint Louis collects nine of 14 possible first-place votes
> Week 4 — Saint Louis remains atop the rankings, with Pearl City entrenched at No. 2
> Week 5 — The rough-and-tumble ILH schedule begins to hit all its members, and Saint Louis slips to No. 4. Mid-Pacific zooms past Pearl City to the top spot, never to lose its grip for the remainder of the regular season
> Week 6 — The Crusaders regain their bearings and jump one notch to No. 3
> Week 7 — More of the same. MPI is a solid No. 1 with 12 of 14 first-place votes. Pearl City has the other two top votes, with Saint Louis locked in at No. 3 as the rest of the rankings endures turbulence
> Week 8 — Another bump in the road for the Crusaders, who tumble a spot to No. 4, replaced by Baldwin
> Week 9 — The Crusaders slip another notch to No. 5 as Punahou begins its late-season ascent and passes Saint Louis
That brings us to this week, week 10, and a heartbreaking end to the baseball season for the gentlemen of Kalaepohaku, and for their many fans. From day one, the Crusaders showed flashes of championship excellence on defense, on the mound and at the plate. John Kea led the outfield patrol while third baseman Brendan Uchima provided a superb skill set on offense and defense. Depth was not a problem for Coach George Gusman. In Thursday’s elimination contest, he had Chase Meilleur, Dylan Spain and Dawson Yamaguchi ready to go.
But the ILH has just two state-tournament berths, in line with the ratio formula established and used by the HHSAA. When the league had a larger flock, three berths were available. The growth of the ILH did more for its Division II members than D-I, even with the promotion of D-II state champion Maryknoll to D-I.
The gauntlet is what it is, a regular-season format of three round-robins, rewarding the first-place team (Mid-Pacific) with an automatic state berth, followed by a play-in/elimination round that saw Top 10 resident Kamehameha fall to upstart ‘Iolani. And that preceded the wild double-elimination playoffs that brought out the true colors of a Punahou team that jelled and matured just in time.
Saint Louis’ misfortune — losing two games early in the playoff tourney — meant plenty of down time and a whole lot of hoping. As the league’s regular-season runner-up, the Crusaders needed MPI (and only MPI) to win the playoff tourney. That would force a matchup between Saint Louis and the playoff tourney runner-up, which turned out to be Punahou.
After all that promise during the regular season, the Crusaders went eight days before playing in the playoff tourney. After being ousted from the tourney, it was a wait of nine more days before they met Punahou.
“This is an excellent, hard-working team,” Gusman said. “We prepared really well. Playing three games in the last 20 days or so, that didn’t help. We knew that we may struggle.”
Punahou (12-9) had a non-stop schedule over the past three weeks, but never seemed to fatigue. The Buffanblu get to fly to the state tourney in Wailuku next week.
“They are game ready, game tested,” Gusman added. “They will represent the ILH well on Maui.”