Kailua, Mililani out on day one of big dance

Kekai Burnett scored five of his nine points in the first quarter to help Punahou overcome an early six-point deficit. Punahou ousted Kailua, 76-40, in the opening round of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Feb. 19, 2024)

And then there were eight.

The Division bracket of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships took intrigue up a notch on Monday. Kalaheo is living by the simple truth that iron sharpens iron, ousting Mililani on Monday.

The Mustangs’ 51-48 win on the Trojans’ homecourt was another case of an OIA 6 knocking out an OIA 2. It happened last year when Mililani lost to Moanalua.

Here’s the recent history of OIA 2 vs. OIA 6 in the opening round at states. OIA 2s are the home team in almost all matchups.

2024: (OIA 6) Kalaheo 51, (OIA 2) Mililani
2023: (OIA 6) Moanalua 60, (OIA 2) Mililani 56
2022: (OIA 2) Kailua 53, (OIA 6) Kapolei 33
2021: season cancelled
2020: (OIA 2) Kahuku 56, (OIA 6) Kaiser 37
2019: (OIA 2) Kailua 68, (OIA 6) Kalaheo 40
2018: (OIA 2) Kahuku 54, (OIA 6) Kailua 36
2017: (OIA 6) Leilehua 51, (OIA 2) Kapolei 49
2016: (OIA 2) Kaiser 41, (OIA 6) Kailua 35 (McKinley gym)

In the last eight OIA 2-6 games at states, the sixth-place team has won three times. The remaining wins by the OIA runner-up were by an average margin of 18.2 points.

In 2015, it was a 3-6 matchup.

2015: (OIA 3) Kahuku 49, (OIA 6) Moanalua 48

On Monday night, the Mustangs also showed that they learned from a season’s worth of ups and downs. A 73-62 loss to Mililani in preseason was part of the growth. While Mililani went 10-0 in the OIA West, Kalaheo finished the OIA East season tied in first place, but became a 3-seed through the tiebreaker formula. The Mustangs will meet MIL champion Baldwin, the fourth seed, in the quarterfinal round on Thursday.

Nanakuli made the long haul to the Big Island and earned a 50-45 win over BIIF runner-up Hilo. That sets the Golden Hawks up with top seed and two-time defending state champion Saint Louis on Thursday. Coach Nate Donnell has reined in practice times at this point of the year. The 5 a.m. practices are also on hold as Nanakuli enjoys its first big dance in 47 years.

Punahou walloped Kailua in a truth-serum game, 76-40. Punahou’s struggles against Saint Louis in recent games apparently sharpened their resolve, according to James Taras (21 points). They unleashed fullcourt pressure and Kailua’s young ball handlers buckled in the second and third quarters. Kailua early-season success with a team leaning heavily on underclassmen is a bit more remarkable in hindsight. Despite late-season losses the Surfiders’ success with one of the youngest rosters in the state bodes well for next season.

Punahou, Nanakuli and other veteran teams are thriving in the post-season. Teams depending on sophomores? Hit and miss. Anything can happen.

Kahuku went upcountry and ousted the tall Warriors of Kamehameha-Maui, 53-42. Kahuku’s athleticism, balance and length are a difficult matchup for many teams. KS-Maui’s season is over, but senior guard Dylan Schnitzer had 23 points in the loss. He showed that he’s more than a playmaker on the football field. His first love is basketball. He would’ve been fun to watch in the quarterfinals.

The depth and parity of the OIA in recent seasons is at a new peak. While OIA football had consolidation at select schools while bypassing the ILH as the best football league in the state, basketball has been surging. Five OIA teams are in the Star-Advertiser Top 10.

Will that number remain the same when the state tourney is over? Baldwin is fully-rostered and coming off the MIL championship run. At the Surfrider Holiday Classic, the Bears were missing a few key players.

Kohala made another unbeaten run through the BIIF meshed schedule, beating D-I and D-II opponents alike. This team battled Saint Louis in a close 45-42 loss in the 2022-23 preseason. The rematch at Kailua’s tourney was exciting and close for one quarter before Saint Louis’ defense simply outmuscled the Cowboys in a rout.

One game doesn’t define a season or a team. Kohala comes into the Division II state tourney as the defending champion and top seed. Layden Kauka is one of the top playmakers in the state. The entire D-II bracket is potentially more entertaining than the D-I slate.

Bonus shots: It may be, as a seasoned observer noted recently, Honolulu’s attempt to land an NHL expansion team.

The slippery court at Blaisdell Arena had just two days to dry out when the girls state tourney played there last Friday. Twenty-nine spills and a whole bunch of bruises — and one ankle injury — later, it was another example of sub-par basketball courts run across the island. Parents and youth league players on Oahu know exactly what the courts in district gyms are like and have been like since COVID.

Sand down the courts and varnish them like it’s done at high school gyms? Can’t be done, according to a district park site director. Why not? No response.

Sanding probably isn’t necessary for the Blaisdell court. It was fine during the HPU years, but that floor was often left on the concrete for long stretches.

The HHSAA said Blaisdell plans to lay out the court today (Tuesday) now that the opera concerts are done. That gives the wood four days to dry out before Saturday’s championship games. The HHSAA said that this time, Blaisdell will help in preparing the hardwood court. All this begs for more questions.

For now, all players and coaches want is a safe surface. It’s a minor miracle there was only one injury last week.

Tomorrow: A closer look at the pairings in D-I and D-II.

Monday, Feb. 19
Opening round
No. 6 (OIA 3) Nanakuli 50, @ (BIIF 2) Hilo 45
> Nan: Caleb Paakaula 10, Dragon Kekahuna 9, Zion Donnell 8 (5 ast), Blaze Kaululaau 8. Hilo: Ikena Leao 16, Peyton Pana 16 (6-8 FG, 4-6 FT, 7 reb, 7 to).
No. 8 (OIA 5) Kahuku 53, @ (MIL 2) Kamehameha-Maui 42
> Kah: Kash Daley 20 (6-8 3-pt), Akina-Watson 11, Kahler Vendiola 10. KSM: Dylan Schnitzer 23 (6 stl).
No. 9 (OIA 6) Kalaheo 51, @ No. 4 (OIA 2) Mililani 48
> Kal: CJ Bostic 15 (7 reb), Jaron Gilmore 13, Josh Schutter 11. Mil: Tim Dorn 16 (6-8 FG, 4-5 FT), 5 reb, 5 blk), Roman Gabriel 10, Lauvai Pine 9, Ezekiel Virtudes 9 (5 ast).
@ No. 2 (ILH 2) Punahou 76, No. 7 (OIA 4) Kailua 40
> Pun: James Taras 21 (8-15 FG <3-4 3-pt>, 6 reb, 2 blk), Dillon Kellner 12, Noah Macapulay 4 stl. Kai: Maddox Pung 15, Noa Donnelly 10 (8 reb), Dylan Kunz 10.

Thursday, Feb. 22
At Punahou
No. 9 (OIA 6) Kalaheo vs. (#4 seed/MIL 1) Baldwin, 5 p.m.
No. 6 (OIA 3) Nanakuli vs. No. 1 (#1 seed/ILH 1) Saint Louis, 7 p.m.
At Saint Louis
No. 8 (OIA 5) Kahuku vs. No. 3 (#2 seed/OIA 1) Leilehua, 5 p.m.
No. 2 (ILH 2) Punahou vs. (#3 seed/BIIF 1) Kamehameha-Hawaii, 7 p.m.
At Kaimuki
(#4 seed/KIF 1) Kapaa vs. (#5/OIA 1) Kaimuki, 5 p.m.
(#1 seed/BIIF 1) Kohala vs. (ILH 2) Le Jardin, 7 p.m.
At Kalani
(#3 seed/MIL 2) Seabury Hall vs. (BIIF 2) Pahoa, 5 p.m.
(#2 seed/ILH 1) University vs. (OIA 2) Aiea, 7 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 23
At Punahou
5 and 7 p.m.
At Saint Louis
5 and 6:30 p.m.

At Kaimuki
University-Aiea winner vs. Seabury Hall-Pahoa winner, 5 p.m.
Kohala-Le Jardin winner vs. Kapaa-Kaimuki winner, 7 p.m.

At Kalani
University-Aiea loser vs. Seabury Hall-Pahoa loser, 5 p.m.
Kohala-Le Jardin loser vs. Kapaa-Kaimuki loser, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 24
At Blaisdell
Fifth place, 9 a.m.
Third place, 1 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.

At Blaisdell
Fifth place, 11 a.m.
Third place, 3 p.m.
Championship, 5 p.m.


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