All signs pointed to more Hurricane onslaught in the OIA.
The Kapolei Hurricanes were healthy. Developing a now-rarely seen 3-2 matchup zone with 6-foot-4 Zoar Nedd at the top. Scoring and rebounding — and blocked shots – in good supply.
They had no idea the Kalaheo Mustangs would match them play for play, and then some. In a stunning 56-53 semifinal win on Monday night, the Mustangs overcame every bit of adversity to advance to the championship game. Kalaheo (19-11 overall) will battle Kahuku, which is the lone unbeaten team in the OIA.
Monday’s thriller included Kalaheo using the flex offense at times for key scores and the biggest game in the young life of sophomore Kanoa Smith. Somewhere upstairs, the late Pete Smith — Kanoa’s grandfather and legendary Kalaheo coach — had to be smiling and applauding.
In the midst of a tight game in the first half, it was Luke Pardini who swished two NBA-range 3-pointers to boost Kalaheo. Kapolei was on the verge of blowing the game open, leading 20-10 after Isiah Higa’s free throws with 3:24 left in the first half. They never stopped defending, though, and never stopped with the quickest outlet passes in the league.
Harry Wallace scored inside on a pass from Andrew Kearney for a three-point play and after Kearney cut to the bucket and scored a layup, the Mustangs were within 24-17. The came the freshman, Luke Pardini, with something Kapolei never expected. The 5-foot-11 guard launched and splashed back-to-back 3-pointers from NBA range, and suddenly Kalaheo was within 24-23.
Twenty-three seconds later, Lawrence DeCosta broke away for a fastbreak layup, and the Mustangs were in the lead.
The first bout of adversity came with 1:11 left in the third when Pardini fouled out. Ja’Shon Carter made both foul shots and Kapolei was within 42-38. The run extended into the fourth quarter, when Carter’s foul-line jumper gave the ‘Canes a 44-42 lead, an 8-0 run.
Then Kearney drove the left side and scored a 45-44 lead, but didn’t get back off the floor. Officials stopped play several seconds later.
“I rolled my ankle,” he said of a recurring injury.
Kearney got up after a couple of minutes in agony. He was done. Or should have been. He returned to the game with 3:32 remaining and promptly drove to the bucket from the wing to score. In their flex offense. Kalaheo led 49-46.
But Kapolei scored two buckets almost instantly on a steal and layup by Carter and a steal and jumper in the lane by Zoar Nedd. Kapolei back in the lead with 2:44 left.
The lead changed hands two more times and Kapolei led 52-51 after a free throw by Marquis Montgomery with 1:17 left to play.
Kalaheo ran the floor, as always, and Smith was wide open on the left wing when he caught the pass and launched.
“I wasn’t really set for it,” the 6-foot sophomore said. “I kind of rushed it.”
His high-arching, left-handed shot hit nothing but nylon. Kalaheo led 54-52 with 40 seconds left. The Mustangs never trailed again, though the ‘Canes had their chances. After each bench called time out with 17.6 seconds left, Wallace fouled Higa near midcourt. The senior guard made one of the two free throws, cutting the lead to 54-53 with 15.3 seconds to go.
The ‘Canes then fouled Smith, who had missed two free throws just two minutes earlier. The rotation on his shot, flawless. He knocked down both, Kalaheo led 56-53 and Kapolei’s corner 3, by Higa, misses at the buzzer.
Adversity? Rewind to the ‘Iolani Classic in December, when the team struggled with finals and games at the same time of day. One morning, Kalaheo suited up just six players, missing most of their seniors, and lost to Pearl City.
Injuries? Kearney has hobbled off and on with an injury to his right ankle, the same one that he broke three years ago.
This is not the same team that struggled in December, but those growing pains — and injuries — made it possible for Coach Rob Pardini to develop his team. After losing six games in a row during Christmas season, the Mustangs are now on a eight-game win streak. They’re doing it with crisp passing, unselfish ball movement, old-school rim attacking and hard-nosed defense.
They also get over everything quickly.
“It’s a next-play mentality,” Smith said.
Kearney finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-4 senior never expected to remain sidelined after reinjuring his ankle.
“If my leg’s not broken, I’m going back in,” he said.