Grit and growth: Moanalua’s upset win over Mililani

After a roller coaster preseason, regular season and playoffs, Moanalua pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year in the opening round of the state tournament. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

A couple of late-season losses did nothing to dampen Moanalua’s confidence.

Na Menehune was the sixth-place team in the OIA playoffs, the final qualifier for the state tournament, and made their opportunity pay off with a stunning 60-56 win over Mililani on Monday night.

First, here’s what in store for Wednesday. So many good games, so little time.

Wednesday, Feb. 8
At Moanalua
Moanalua (16-10) vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii (13-8), 5 p.m.
Kailua (22-5) vs. Saint Louis (24-7), 7 p.m.
At McKinley
Maryknoll (28-7) vs. Kamehameha-Maui (13-9), 5 p.m.
Kahuku (19-4) vs. Campbell (24-5), 7 p.m.

Seeding: 1. Kohala, 2. Farrington, 3. Kauai, 4. Seabury Hall
At Kalani
Seabury Hall (22-5) vs. Hawaii Baptist (13-11), 5 p.m.
Kohala (15-2) at Kalani (9-10), 7 p.m.
At Damien
Kauai (13-7) vs. Honokaa (12-6), 5 p.m.
Farrington (5-10) vs. University (21-6), 7 p.m.

Mililani, which played in the OIA championship game last week, closed the season 18-5.

Moanalua (16-10 overall) advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships and will play Kamehameha-Hawaii on Wednesday.

In other opening-round games, Kailua romped past Lahainaluna, 82-53, Kahuku stifled Konawaena, 52-35, and Maryknoll overwhelmed Leilehua, 56-37.

Gavin Pommerenk scored 12 points to lead a balanced Moanalua offensive attack. Michael Barcelona and Jerome Williams chipped in eight points while providing key defense.

“We talked in the last three days of practice, defense and rebounding will win us games this week,” Moanalua coach Brandon Dumlao said.

Barcelona and Jeremy Gardner were tasked with the challenge of guarding Mililani sharpshooter Jayden Kipapa.

“We wanted to take Kipapa out completely, face guarded him and made sure he didn’t get touches,” Dumlao said.

Kipapa finished with 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Creighton Ofsonka scored 12 points, five days after suffering a leg injury in the OIA title game.

“Ofsonka, he was fine, hit a 3 on us. We had to keep him off the glass. He got a few early offensive rebounds. Our defense was crazy good tonight in the halfcourt. It’s definitely a total team effort tonight,” Dumlao said.

It was almost all about defense on a night when guard Skylar Miyasato had just eight points, well below his average.

“Jerome Williams dominated the glass tonight. He was cleaning up the boards, cleaning up around the rim. That’s the best I’ve seen him play in two years. And he’s super versatile,” Dumlao said. “He guarded (J) Marxen.”

Miyasato fouled out after being assessed a technical foul midway through the fourth quarter. Mililani got the lead down to three points, but never got the lead back through the entire second half.

Mililani was coming off its first loss in OIA play, falling to Campbell, 50-45, in the league championship game on Wednesday. A week ago, the Trojans had five first-place votes in the Top 10 — two more than No. 1 Saint Louis — and were ranked No. 2 statewide.

Dumlao’s team went 6-6 through a tough nonconference schedule, then was 3-2 in OIA East play before embarking on a six-game win streak after New Year’s Day. After a win over Radford to open the playoffs, Moanalua lost to eventual OIA champ Campbell. A 55-44 win over Kalaheo sealed a state-tournament berth.

Moanalua lost the fifth-place game at Kahuku, 69-66.

“It’s been a whirlwind trying to figure out the right rotations, what guys are going to give us the edge defensively. I think we’ve hit a little stride. We lost to Kahuku, but we played really well. A lot of the preseason and regular season, we didn’t make the big plays in the fourth quarter, but we made them tonight. I’m definitely proud of the guys for doing that tonight,” Dumlao said.

Moanalua beat Kamehameha-Hawaii, 52-39, on Dec. 8 at the Moanalua Invitational.

“We know Kamehameha-Hawaii has at least two guys who can shoot the ball. They were major problems, so we know what’s coming,” Dumlao said. “Coach (Mea) Wong, I know his teams will come and compete. We’ve got to play defense the way we did tonight.”

Momentum can have high voltage — good or bad — and the teams that had plenty of struggles along the way also have the opportunity to learn, adapt, evolve.

That’s a regular thing in the ILH gauntlet. Not quite so common in the OIA. The teams with the most scar tissue occasionally make a major run in the post-season. If Moanalua seems like a true long shot after finishing sixth in the OIA, well, even the 69-66 loss at Kahuku in the fifth-place game was a positive, at least to coach Brandon Dumlao.

Over the past 15 years, Moanalua has been a second seed twice. Most seasons, Na Menehune have qualified as an unseeded entry.

2022 – DNP
2021 – tourney cancelled
2020 – #2 seed, lost to Damien 64-57 quarterfinals
2019 – #2 seed, lost to ‘Iolani 52-47 OT, quarterfinals
2018 – unseeded, won at Konawaena 62-52; def Kalaheo 52-50 quarterfinals; lost to Punahou 75-69 semifinals
2017 – unseeded, lost to ‘Iolani 59-43
2016 – DNP
2015 – unseeded, lost to Kahuku 49-48
2014 – unseeded, lost to Maryknoll 59-54
2013 – unseeded, lost to Pearl City 68-60
2012 – unseeded, lost to Hilo 50-45
2011 – #2 seed, lost to AOP 51-50 OT, quarterfinals
2010 – #2 seed, lost to Kamehameha 53-50, quarterfinals
2009 – DNP
2008 – unseeded, def. Campbell 65-43; def #1 ‘Iolani 58-55, quarterfinals; lost to KS-Hawaii 51-45, semifinals
2007 – unseeded, def. Radford 73-71 OT; lost to #1 Punahou 73-63, quarterfinals

So, in eight opening-round games as an unseeded team, Moanalua has won three times in the last 15 years. But two of those were back in 2007 and ’08, which means they are 1-5 in their last six games as an unseeded team. Or were.


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