Playing through injury, Liko Soares’ grit sparks Maryknoll to semifinal win

Maryknoll's Liko Soares is playing with a torn meniscus as the Spartans will play for the D-I state title on Friday night. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

Liko Soares has his way of dealing with a partially torn meniscus.

Maryknoll’s trainer will ask about his pain level, and Soares does what he does. The injury will require surgery after the season. For now, it’s a matter of pain management. Pain tolerance.

“It’s sore. It’s a 12,” Soares said of the pain level. “I usually just lie and say 3. Afterwards is when it hurts. It hurts a lot.”

Getting one torn before the state tournament, that could be devastating. Soares opted for a week of no regrets. Coach Kelly Grant let him rest in a quarterfinal win over Kamehameha-Hawaii, but when Maryknoll needed him in the semifinals against rival Damien, the 6-foot-1 senior stepped into action.

Soares scored 10 points on an efficient 5-for-7 shooting, adding two assists and a steal as the Spartans defeated Damien 57-40 to advance into the final of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships in Division I. It was the fourth win in four matchups for Maryknoll against Damien. After four-point margins in the first three, a runaway was not expected, especially with Soares ailing.

“All the coaches said it’s my senior year. I need to go out with a bang,” Soares said.

The grit-and-grind of Maryknoll’s team this season has paid off with a return trip to the final. The Spartans could become the first D-I team to repeat as state champion since ‘Iolani, which won five in a row from 2002 to ’05.

Sage Tolentino shot 7-for-8 from the field and 7-for-11 at the foul line to finish with 21 points and seven rebounds for the Spartans. He had two blocks, two steals and just one turnover in a 32-minute performance. The Spartans turned a six-point deficit into a 19-0 run in the second half, and led 34-21 early in the fourth quarter.

“Every time we’re down by a lot, we keep our composure and we keep fighting to get back,” Tolentino said.

As a team, Maryknoll shot 51 percent from the field (19-for-37) and 68 percent from the free-throw line (17-for-25). The Spartans limited Damien to 35-percent accuracy from the field. Their tough man-to-man defense also forced 18 turnovers by the Monarchs, giving Maryknoll (13) a plus-five advantage. Damien attempted just 12 foul shots and made eight.

Senior Niko Robben finished with nine points, hitting 6-for-8 at the foul line to overcome a 1-for-7 night from the field. Damien’s tough defense was a major factor, but Robben continued to attack despite ankle and hip injuries.

“We didn’t have a day to prepare like usual because it’s been back to back, but we did pretty well,” the 6-4 senior said. “We’ve been down against them at half this season. We make the most of the two last quarters. Liko did really well. He’s kind of still stumbling around, but he’s super effective around the post.”

Another key was the durability and strength — yes, strength – of Tolentino, a sophomore. Facing physical teams like Kamehameha-Hawaii and Damien, he has held his own in the paint.

“He’s in the weight room a lot. It shows,” Soares said.

The difference in one year has been significant. Tolentino uses his length, but also his leverage, spreading his feet wide and getting low. There hasn’t been a defender able to push him off his spot, unlike his freshman season.

Tolentino got his share and more at breakfast and lunch. He was properly fueled up.

“I get in the weight room and keep grinding. I went to Shriner’s Hospital right next to our school. I go there every morning and get eggs, rice and Portuguese sausage. At lunch, I had a cheese macaroni bowl and I had a Spam musubi with it,” he said. “During our pre-game meal, we had a chocolate (protein) smoothie.”

HHSAA Division I State Tournament

Match #DateMatchupTime/ScoresSite
1Feb. 17Waiakea vs. LeilehuaLei, 82-53Waiakea
2Feb. 17Kahuku vs. KaiserKah, 56-37Kahuku
3Feb. 17Lahainaluna vs. DamienDMS, 58-49Lahainaluna
4Feb. 17Maryknoll vs. KalaheoMryk, 49-41 (OT)Maryknoll
5Feb. 19(1) Kamehameha vs. LeilehuaKSK, 72-43McKinley
6Feb. 19(4) Baldwin vs. KahukuKah, 64-53McKinley
7Feb. 19(2) Moanalua vs. DamienDMS, 64-57Moanalua
8Feb. 19(3) KS-Hawaii vs. MaryknollMryk, 61-32Moanalua
9*Feb. 20Moanalua vs. KS-HawaiiMoan, 73-61Stan Sheriff Center
10*Feb. 20Leilehua vs. BaldwinBald, 73-54Stan Sheriff Center
11Feb. 20Damien vs. MaryknollMryk, 57-40Stan Sheriff Center
12Feb. 20Kamehameha vs. KahukuKSK, 48-39Stan Sheriff Center
13*Feb. 21Moanalua vs. BaldwinMoan, 64-52Stan Sheriff Center
14*Feb. 21Damien vs. KahukuKah, 50-49Stan Sheriff Center
15Feb. 21Maryknoll vs. KamehamehaMryk, 46-33Stan Sheriff Center
* — consolation


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