The monarchy is intact.
Damien made certain of it, withstanding a major rally by Mid-Pacific for a 58-54 win to secure a state-tournament berth on Saturday afternoon in a near-capacity Bishop Scanlan Gymnasium.
The Monarchs will meet Maryknoll on Monday in their next step up the staircase format of the ILH’s second-round tournament. The Damien-Maryknoll winner will meet Kamehameha, the regular-season first-place team, for the league title on Wednesday.
“After we lost on senior night, this was a good team win. We bounced back and showed some confidence going into states. Hopefully, we’ll win the ILH championship,” said senior Jake Holtz, who had eight points and eight rebounds against MPI. “We believe in ourselves. We believe we can beat Maryknoll. We beat them last year. We can do it again.”
Mid-Pacific finished the season 17-15 overall under first-year head coach Robert Shklov.
“Damien shot really well. Their length is a problem. Nobody wants to play Damien,” Shklov said. “I think in terms of pure basketball talent and athletic talent, nobody matches up with them. They’re a great team. Really well coached. You saw when they made the adjustments, they locked on us.”
“I believe that. We’re coming together at the right time. We’re coming together as a team. Throughout the season, we were trying to figure out the chemistry without the same pieces from last year,” he said.
The Owls were ranked in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 for a good chunk of the season. Then came the rugged ILH schedule, and then wins over ‘Iolani and Punahou to get in position to play for a state berth.
“It’s always disappointing when you lose. We want to have as much success for these boys and this is a really good team. You can tell from how many people come out to support them. They’re easy to root for because they’re good kids. They do really well in the classroom. We have no discipline problems. We have good citizens and that’s the success that I know will carry on through their lives. I know through basketball we can teach them lessons,” Shklov said. “In the ILH, every coach is such a good coach. Every one has either won a state championship or has been a coach of the year, so coach Alvin (Stephenson) is definitely going to make adjustments. He’s somebody I have a ton of respect for.”
Hayden Bayudan led Damien (17-13) with 17 points and four assists. Tino Atonio added 15 points, hitting three treys in five tries. Bayudan, a junior point guard, was clutch at the foul line, hitting eight of his 10 attempts. Holtz added eight points and eight rebounds, and Bryce Forbes shot 5-for-6 at the charity stripe in the final 1:17 to help seal the hard-earned win.
It was a cathartic result for a team that saw its point guard, Bayudan, miss two games late in the season — a loss at Maryknoll and a senior-night loss to Saint Louis. Holtz and Forbes, two seniors, credited the team for regaining unity.
“It was really tough. It was all the best for us to stay together as a family,” Forbes said. “We got everyone together. We met as a team a week ago. We put everyone together. Hayden never quit. Personal reasons.”
Holtz also quarterbacked the football team in a successful, but tough season.
“The selfishness went away,” Holtz said.
It was a rare situation for Damien, which normally has a loud audience, but not the kind of electricity that MPI’s fans brought. Shklov was not exaggerating earlier in the week about the Owls’ traveling contingent of 200 supporters.
The visitors rained 3s from everywhere in the first half. Lucca Kitashima splashed four of them and point guard Kamana Lapina hit two, his only field-goal attempts of the first half. That was enough to keep the Owls within 29-28 at halftime.
After going with a 1-3-1 zone in the first half, Stephenson went to a man-to-man defense. Damien sent Jarvis Natividad to smother Kitashima, who attempted only one more shot the rest of the day. The Monarchs went on a 14-2 run with a wing 3 by Forbes, a corner 3 by RJ Spencer and slash to the bucket for a layup by Bayudan the big plays.
After Atonio drained a 3 and Bayudan scored off a steal, Forbes sank a foul shot to give Damien a 43-30 lead late in the third quarter. Finally, Damien’s fans raised their volume.
The Owls made another push, going on an 18-7 run. Lapina scored 10 points in the final quarter. Kala Nakaya fed Elijah Kahue-Parker for a bucket at the rim, and Lapina swished a corner 3 to bring the Owls within 50-48 with 1:47 left.
Bayudan sank two free throws for a four-point lead, and Lapina missed an elbow jumper. Forbes then began a parade to the charity stripe. His free throws opened the lead to 57-50 with 33 seconds left.
“Mid-Pac is way better than last time. They gave us a big fight. Props to them,” Holtz said.
MPI shot 6-for-10 from the arc in the first half and 1-for-5 after that. Kahue-Parker finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists. Nakaya had 10 points, five boards and two steals. Lapina stepped up in the clutch, but it just wasn’t enough.
“In my lifetime, Kamana is the best player I’ve ever gotten to coach. His mentality, his intensity, his leadership is fantastic. I can’t say enough. I already miss him,” Shklov said.