Imai, Liu spark Waiakea over Sacred Hearts for title

The Waiakea Warriors made the most of their unique opportunity, winning the Orthopedic Associates Sacred Hearts Invitational tournament title. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Dec. 2, 2017)

The Waiakea Warriors didn’t really consider this a championship game, but there they were.

After losing to Kamehameha in Friday’s semifinal round of the Orthopedic Associates Sacred Hearts Invitational, Waiakea was prepared to play in Saturday’s third-place game, but there was a hitch. Kamehameha coach Joseph Cho wanted to avoid facing Sacred Hearts Academy, which ousted Hawaii Baptist in the other semifinal.

Sacred Hearts (7-4 nonconference), a fellow member of ILH Division I girls basketball, plays Kamehameha on Thursday in a league opener. Cho opted to cede his team’s spot in the tourney final rather than add one more matchup with the Lancers; the teams will meet at least twice during ILH play, perhaps as many as four or five times including playoffs.

That paved the way for Waiakea, which got 14 points from Zaelynn Liu and a remarkable all-around performance from sophomore Kelsie Imai in a 55-50 win over Sacred Hearts.

Imai, youngest sister of former Waiakea standouts Kami and Kirsty Imai, scored just six points. She was dynamic in transition, however, with six rebounds, eight assists, three steals and three blocks. She was named to the all-tournament squad.

In all, the Warriors used a 1-2-2 halfcourt trap to create 12 steals against the bigger, stronger Lancers.

Keeli-Jade Smith added seven points, five boards and four steals for Waiakea, a team that has no seniors and four juniors.

Dallas Martinez gutted out a tough effort, playing through an ankle injury to finish with 24 points and nine rebounds. Te‘Hiwa Medeiros added eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Martinez and Medeiros were also selected to the all-tourney team. Sade Mizusawa tallied seven points, five boards, three assists and three steals.

The Lancers made a run late in the game with full-court pressure that forced Waiakea into six fourth-quarter turnovers. However, SHA shot 8-for-14 from the free-throw line and was just 4-for-15 from the field in the final eight minutes.

Waiakea (3-4) could’ve been the more fatigued team. The Warriors played four games in 3.5 days, losing to Maryknoll on Wednesday in a non-tournament game before taking on Roosevelt (73-50 win), Kamehameha (65-49 loss) and Sacred Hearts.

The speed of their roster, from top to bottom, is a major strength, as is their depth.

“We put together four quarters. Execution on offense is big for us,” Warriors coach Brandon Kauhi said.

Scheduling Maryknoll, which is unbeaten through nonconference play, was a must for Kauhi.

“We had a free day so we were able to put the game together. It’s a good measuring stick to see where we stand. We were able to execute our defense and put pressure on them. I thought we played a real good first half,” he said. “This year, we’re deep. I try to go 10 deep. I’m happy with the way they played. It’s a good learning experience. We go back and play Kealakehe on Tuesday.”

The Warriors have tempo and speed, shooting and on-ball pressure. The program has a history of excellence in the BIIF and state tourney, going back to the talent of Jennifer Kaeo (Hawaii) and state-tourney qualifiers under then-coach Gil Tomas. He led Waiakea to state titles in 1985 and ’86.

The Warriors have not qualified for the big dance since 2012, when they edged Roosevelt 56-55 in triple overtime before losing to Lahainaluna in the quarterfinal round. They reached the final four in ’88, ’93, ’98, ’99 and ’08.

Since ’12, it’s been Konawaena and Hilo at 1 and 2 out of the BIIF every season.

“We feel like day in and day out we can compete, working hard at practice, but until we beat Kona and Hilo, they’re the teams to beat,” Kauhi said.

Imai never seemed to tire, perhaps because she and her teammates are working hard and fast all the time.

“Everyone gets along. There’s no dramas,” she said.

Note: Pakalana Kam, a Sacred Hearts senior guard, suffered a shoulder injury during the second quarter and was transported via ambulance to a hospital. The school announced later that x-rays revealed no fracture of her collarbone. The game was put on hold for 30 minutes as officials awaited paramedics as a precaution.

Kamehameha-Maui 42, Mililani 34
The Warriors got two treys from forward-center Angel Pauole, and one each from Mikiala Sniffen, Kaylee Cambra and Shaylisse Gregory in a close battle against the Trojans. Pauole led KS-Maui with 17 points and Kimani Fernandez-Roy added 11 rebounds to go with nine points. Cambra also chipped in nine points, including seven in the first quarter as the Warriors claimed fifth place.

Kayla Tansiongco scored 10 points and Taysia Canon added eight for Mililani.

Roosevelt 48, Waipahu 29
In the seventh-place game, Kaonohi Quinlan scored 10 points to help the Rough Riders claim seventh place. Sadie Ann Luiz chipped in eight points.

J’Anne Stewart-Neish led the Marauders with 11 points.

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