Buzzer beater sends Moanalua to states

From Central Oahu to the Windward side to the state tournament.

Moanalua’s journey over the last two days left Na Menehune coach Byron Mello equal parts exhilarated and exhausted after a stunning last-second 65-63 win at Kalaheo in the quarterfinals of the OIA Division boys basketball playoffs on Friday.

Na Menehune guard Caleb Casinas drained seven 3-pointers in an incendiary 28-point performance and forward RJ Dominguez complemented him with 21 points primarily in the paint.

But sophomore CJ Bonilla provided the game’s decisive basket, driving for a buzzer-beating layup to give Na Menehune a win over the eighth-ranked Mustangs, a spot in the OIA semifinals and one of the league’s six berths in the Division I state tournament.

“We’re undersized but we’re scrappy,” Mello said. “Got rebounds when we needed to. We bent but we didn’t break. I’m exhausted and just excited at the same time.”

Moanalua will face OIA West top seed and seventh-ranked Kapolei in the second game of Tuesday’s OIA semifinal doubleheader at McKinley. No. 1 Kahuku faces No. 10 Kailua in the first game.

Kalaheo fell into the fifth-place bracket and will host McKinley on Tuesday with a state tournament berth at stake.

Na Menehune qualified for the OIA Division I boys basketball playoffs with the sixth and final seed out of the Eastern Division after going 6-5 in the regular season.

As a low seed, they bused to Mililani, the OIA West’s third-place finisher, and emerged with a 66-61 win in the elimination game. The victory earned Moanalua a trip to Kailua to face OIA East runner-up Kalaheo on Friday.

The host Mustangs, led by guard Captain Whitlock, raced out to a 15-point lead in the second quarter before Casinas drilled three 3-pointers in a 13-0 Moanalua run in which Na Menehune scored on five consecutive possessions in a span of 1:50.

“I didn’t even know I hit those three 3s, it took my teammates to tell me,” Casinas said. “The momentum was with us. I know I felt it. … I think that’s where it really built up and the momentum swung with us. When they called the timeout we were all excited and that’s where we really got pumped up and really felt we had a chance in this game.”

“He’s just matured so nicely over the course of this year,” Mello said of Casinas. “He was phenomenal tonight. He did everything we asked him. He made shots. He played with such confidence and such poise, made big plays when we needed to make them. This was just a huge step forward for him.”

Kalaheo led 32-28 at halftime and scored first in the third quarter. But Moanalua answered again with a Dominguez drive and a Casinas 3. Isaiah Sugiura then came up with a steal and dropped a pass to Austin Dyer for a fast-break layup to give Moanalua a 35-34 lead.

Whitlock, who finished with 24 points, scored Kalaheo’s next 10 points, including two 3-pointers, and his drive with 7.4 seconds left in the third quarter pushed the Mustangs ahead 44-43

The teams traded baskets throughout the fourth quarter with Casinas drilling a corner 3 to give Moanalua a 59-57 lead with 1:34 left only to have Whitlock answer with a tying drive 10 seconds later.

After a Dominguez bucket in the paint, Whitlock hit two free throws to tie it again with 47 seconds left.

On Moanalua’s next possession, Dominguez drew a foul and hit the front end of a 1-and-1 to give Moanalua a 62-61 lead with 37.6 left. He missed the second and Whitlock’s quick 3-pointer rimmed out and Isaiah Jackson grabbed the rebound. Mello called Moanalua’s final timeout with 17.5 seconds left and Kalaheo had to foul twice before sending Casinas to the line with 8.5 seconds remaining.

Casinas made the first then missed the second. Kalaheo’s Nate Gribbins was fouled in the battle for the rebound, sending him to the line for a 1-and-1 with 7.7 seconds left. Gribbins swished the front end and the second rattled and fell to tie the game.

With no timeouts, Moanalua inbounded the ball to Casinas who got the ball to Bonilla just past midcourt.

“It was a press break and he passed it to me and I was just thinking we have to score right away,” Bonilla said.

He drove down the left side and wove around two Kalaheo defenders looking to obstruct him without fouling. Bonilla’s shot left his fingertips with 0.4 seconds showing and rolled in through rim at the buzzer, triggering a wild celebration.

“I was just so overjoyed because this team has worked so hard to get to where we are now,” Bonilla said. “I’m just overwhelmed with joy right now.”

Said Casinas: “He’s a really strong attacker. When he takes it to the basket most of the time it’s goning to go in. With the game on the line like that and CJ taking it to the basket, I had a lot of trust and when the ball went in, it was unreal. All of us swarming, it was really fun. This is what we all play for.”


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