The fate of ILH boys basketball contenders not named Saint Louis rests with Punahou on Thursday night.
Yes, when the Buffanblu visit Saint Louis, it will be more than No. 2 trekking to No. 1, more than the Sons of Oahu challenging the gentlemen of Kalaepohaku. Saint Louis is 8-2 in ILH Division I play with two games remaining: Punahou and winless Damien.
Punahou, ‘Iolani and Maryknoll are 7-3. A Punahou win on Thursday reshuffles the deck, more or less, and gives any of those four teams at the top half of the standings a shot at a first-place finish in the regular season and one of the coveted automatic state-tournament berths.
“It’s crazy,” Punahou coach Darren Matsuda said. “So many different possibilities with only two games left and several tie-breaking playoff scenarios before the ILH playoffs which is already a condensed schedule due to the new state dates.”
All the strategies and systemic values of every program will be on the line. Every grind of a game, as it is every year (not cancelled by pandemic), comes down to the two automatic state berths. It is largely the reason why some coaches prefer an unpredictable tempo and pace rather than the installment of a shot clock.
Every win matters in ILH play, far more than it does in the OIA, where finishing hot means more in what amounts to a lottery-style format. It does keep things quite interesting for teams that struggle early on for whatever reason. Finished sixth in the West? No worries, you’re in. Finished first in the East. Nice job, now enjoy your first-round by and try not to get eliminated from state-berth contention if injuries and protocols hit your roster late in the season.
Maryknoll’s 50-45 homecourt win over No. 1 Saint Louis on Tuesday has given the rest of the contenders hope. HOPE. The Spartans limited Aiva Arquette to 11 points, assigning Fabian Camacho on the 6-4 scorer.
“We all knew it would be tight going in and it’s playing out just like that. Any one of these teams are able to win it all,” Saint Louis coach Dan Hale said. “You just have to prepare the best you can and go from there. You can’t dwell on wins and losses in the past. You’ve got to be ready to play the next game at your best.”
It is still wide open when the ILH tournament is factored in.
“I believe the race is more than four teams. Anyone can get hot during the playoffs,” Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant said. “It is a much harder road this year with the consecutive game days (at the ILH tourney). It is still possible, though.”
While Saint Louis and Punahou go at it on Thursday, ‘Iolani will host Maryknoll. ‘Iolani trailed Kamehameha on Tuesday by seven points with two minutes remaining before rallying for a 48-44 win at Kekuhaupio Gym. If ‘Iolani, which was 0-16 in league play two years ago, manages to finish first this week, that rally would become the signature moment of its season.
Kamehameha still has the firepower to patch together some wins in the ILH tournament and eke out a state berth in the league’s third-place playoffs, or even win the ILH. At 5-6 in league play, the Warriors are a different team from the ILH championship squad two seasons ago with then All-State player of the year Christian Togiai and all-state selection Kordel Ng fueling the attack.
But ever since Togiai went down with that fateful knee injury in the 2020 state semifinals, the Warriors haven’t gotten many breaks. If they could win a state crown with a 6-5 playmaker like Micah Christenson (in 2011), it is reasonably possible with 6-5 EJ Kapihe and 6-4 Kahiau Bruhn.
Christenson powered Kamehameha to state titles in ’09 and ’11 ending a drought of nearly two decades In other words, despite the long odds, Kamehameha may be overdue in 2022.
While Kahuku has mostly feasted on OIA East competition, Saint Louis has grinded out wins in the ILH gauntlet. Even with the loss, 8-2 in that crossfire is exceptional. For most of this regular season, the top five teams in the state were ILH programs. A win by Saint Louis on Thursday seals their automatic state berth. If Punahou, ranked No. 2 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, pulls out the win, there will be a three-way tie for first place between the two teams and the ‘Iolani-Maryknoll winner with one game remaining.