The Age of Iron Men continues in the unforgiving land of Interscholastic League of Honolulu boys basketball.
Truly, winter is here.
Vanquished as of Tuesday night: Top 10 teams Mid-Pacific and Maryknoll. The Owls of MPI fell to Kamehameha while the Spartans were ousted by one point as Punahou advanced. MPI went as far as it could with a strong nucleus, but depth-wise, it was difficult to match Kamehameha.
The Warriors employ at least 10 players every night with scarcely a dropoff, if that. Fatu Sua-Godinet off the bench? He would start on most teams.
Then came Wednesday, and the one team that came within one win of securing a state-tourney berth, Saint Louis, was eliminated by the young Punahou Buffanblu. Every team in the ILH — all ranked in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 — endured roller-coast rises and dips. None may have ended more painfully than Saint Louis’ decline late in the season. The Crusaders were 6-1 at one point, on the cusp of clinching that state berth. But losses to ‘Iolani, Kamehameha and Punahou ended that opportunity.
The four-way, first-place tie, which is believed to be the first in ILH boys hoops since the 1950s, offered another chance. Saint Louis won at Kamehameha, then lost at ‘Iolani in the tiebreaker final. (Note: The site choices were very limited during the tiebreaker week due to the Punahou Carnival; both Maryknoll and Punahou’s parking situations were factors. Also, the sites of the tiebreaker games, like the pairings, were determined by drawing cards. Kamehameha drew the first card and ‘Iolani got the second.)
Drama upon drama upon drama. Layers thick.
The good news for Saint Louis was that it had earned a first-round bye in the ILH playoffs. Then came the home game playoff against Punahou on Wednesday, and the Buffanblu prevailed 64-61. And just like that, a team that was No. 1 recently and in the Top 5 virtually all season is out of the picture.
‘Iolani’s dogged determination and execution during the tiebreaker weekend (Saturday, Feb. 6 and Monday, Feb. 8) produced a state-tourney berth. However, the Raiders fell on Wednesday against Kamehameha, 43-38, at ‘Iolani’s gym. That ended a five-game win streak, but the good news for Coach Dean Shimamoto’s team is that they can breathe and rest a bit. They have spot in the ILH championship game thanks to that regular-season/tiebreaker series success. ‘Iolani will play the Punahou-Kamehameha winner on Saturday.
“You’re afforded some luxuries having won the game on Monday. It still gives us an opportunity on Saturday. After the fact, a little rest is good,” Shimamoto said.
The unstoppable gauntlet has every team, probably, losing track of time.
“Last Friday, before we played that tiebreaker, I said, ‘Remember when we played Punahou last and then we beat Saint Louis?’ They said, ‘No.’ I said it was last week Wednesday and they said, ‘What?’ It felt like a month ago. It’s the grind, and it’s so heavy mentally and physically.”
Punahou started HOT, seated right at the top of the rankings after pressing and running and gunning past opponents in preseason. Young, yes, but immensely talented and meticulously crafted. Think Indy 500 or Formula One artistry. But alas, like all young teams slogging through the harsh winters of ILH hoops, Punahou came crashing down. The Buffanblu were 1-4 at one point, practically addicted to losing close battles.
Then, poof. Five wins in a row. Game on. The return of ‘Akahi Troske solidified an otherwise young front court. But it wasn’t quite enough on Saturday, when the Buffanblu lost to ‘Iolani 40-35 in the tiebreaker semifinal. Coach Darren Matsuda’s team got a rare break in the awesome chaos of the game schedule. After a few days without a game, Punahou edged Maryknoll 59-58 on Tuesday, then edged Saint Louis on Wednesday to reach the playoff final.
Kamehameha’s 0-2 start in ILH play was emergency response time, and Coach Greg Tacon’s squad rallied with four wins in a row. Reaching the tiebreaker playoffs led to a thud: a 69-58 loss against Saint Louis at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium.
But the Warriors, as always, have righted the ship. They ousted Mid-Pacific 54-39 and went to ‘Iolani and won 43-38. Friday’s playoff final against Punahou is for the second and last remaining state-tourney berth.
“I can’t express how honored I am to see how much they have grown and how great it’s been to see them mature into young men,” Tacon texted. “They have constantly answered the bell after getting knocked down and have shown an incredible resolve to compete at their highest level every game. The intensity of an ILH game is like playing in a state-tournament game twice in one week.”
On paper, the run-and-gun Buffanblu have been the one team that the run-and-gun Warriors have failed to beat. Punahou won in preseason 53-48, then beat Kamehameha during the regular season 62-60 and 56-41. But it’s always difficult to beat a very good team four times in one season, even if the game is at Punahou’s court.
It boils down to Friday night, and in a terribly challenging stretch, the teams with the deepest of benches — Punahou and Kamehameha — have endured to reach this point in time.
It is the Age of Iron Men.