A year after finishing third in the OIA West and making an early exit in the league playoffs, Kapolei deserved a chance to celebrate a division title on Friday night.
But the Hurricanes didn’t have much chance to exult in a 58-42 win at Leilehua in a matchup of the division’s undefeated teams. Kapolei coach Gary Ellison and athletic director Darren Camello instead focused on keeping the Hurricanes varsity and JV players together near the gym exit while security quelled a disturbance in the stands across the way.
The game had been called with 12.8 seconds left as attention turned from the court to the stands. The coaches conferred with game officials and shook hands to close the regular season finale before the visiting Hurricanes hustled to the team bus.
“For 12 seconds, for one team to get another basket, it wasn’t worth it. Safety is always paramount,” Leilehua coach Russ Fitzgerald said after the tension cooled and before the Mules commenced with their senior night festivities.
Prior to the awkward conclusion, eighth-ranked Kapolei (10-0) pulled away from the seventh-ranked Mules (9-1) in the fourth quarter to clinch the OIA West crown and the division’s top-seed in the OIA Division I playoffs, which begin Thursday.
Both teams will have byes in the first round and can clinch a state tournament berth with a win in the quarterfinals next Friday.
Kapolei and Leilehua, last year’s division champion, both rolled through the OIA West schedule to set up the showdown in the finale and traded momentum swings through the first three quarters on Friday.
The Hurricanes raced to a 9-2 lead only to see Leilehua rally to tie it up before the end of the first quarter. The Mules edged ahead during a 4-minute Kapolei scoring drought to start the second quarter, but Kapolei sophomore Ja’Shon Carter scored six points in an 11-4 run to end the half on his way to a game-high 23-point night.
Leilehua closed to within a point with 5:19 left in the third quarter, but a Zoar Nedd jumper kept Kapolei a step ahead and the Hurricanes pulled away in the fourth due in large part to 10-for-12 shooting from the foul line.
After Kapolei opened up a 47-36 lead on back-to-back Carter buckets off feeds from Nedd, Leilehua made one more push with Liam Fitzgerald driving for a layup and Jostin Gampayan converting a three-point play to cut the deficit to six.
But Nedd scored on a drive then fed Carter for another layup to effectively put the game away.
When the Hurricanes spread the floor in the fourth quarter, Carter, a 5-foot-8 sophomore, was able to draw fouls while attacking the basket, hit a pull-up jumper in the paint and scored in transition. He went 3-for-4 from the line in an 11-point period.
Russ Fitzgerald likened Carter’s impact to that of former Mules guard Joseph Gouty, last year’s OIA West player of the year, as “a point guard who can, once you’re up by four or five, kind of expand the court.”
Guard Isiah Higa hit all six of his free throws to finish with 10 points, Jayson Manapul added nine points and Nedd had seven.
Fitzgerald cited foul shooting as a key to the outcome after Kapolei went 15-for-23 from the line to Leilehua’s 7-for-18.
“We were with them the first half all the way. They just shot really well from the free-throw line and they deserved everything they got,” Fitzgerald said. “We weren’t a good free-throw shooting team tonight.”