By Paul Honda
For a half, Kailua was brilliant.
En fuego. The Surfriders went inside-out, pounding it down to massive Jordan DeCorte for his feathery-soft bank shots (12 first-half points). Rhys Nakakura caught fire (nine points), speedy Corey Lau weaved in and around traffic (four assists) and even reserve Luis Valenzuela chipped in a 3-pointer as Kailua zoomed to a 34-17 lead by intermission.
Kailua was 14-for-23 from the field (61 percent), 3-for-6 from the arc, owned an 18-4 edge on the boards and limited Roosevelt to 6-for-19 shooting (32 percent). Domination.
Roosevelt looked like it had given up hope. Heads hung low. Nobody hit the boards; the Rough Riders had zero rebounds in the second quarter to Kailua’s 11. It was almost pathetic for a team as talented as Roosevelt.
Then … something magical happened. Coach Steve Hathaway sternly reminded his team about a few things. Then backup guard Chase Yogi, who sat the first half as Roosevelt kept a “big” lineup on the floor, entered the game. Yogi played the entire second half, a 5-foot-7 string bean relentlessly shadowing Lau, playing tough, smart defense, hustling after every loose ball and rebound, and making the right passes on offense. When Lau picked up his dribble, it was all armpits in his face courtesy of Yogi and his bearish defense.
Yogi is one of those plus/minus kind of players, a dude whose statistics don’t measure his value. Put it this way: with Yogi on the bench, Roosevelt was down 17 points. With him on the court, the Rough Riders made up those 17 and won 61-57 and advanced to the final of the Oahu Interscholastic Association White Conference playoffs. Can one player really be worth a 21-point turnaround?
“I’m just trying my hardest so the team can win. It’s not me. The whole team worked hard,” Yogi insisted after the remarkable Roosevelt rally.
True enough. It took an entire team to make up its mind that Kailua was a beatable team. They remembered the regular-season victories — very close wins — over the Surfriders. Brandon Mitchell continued to attack the bigger Surfriders — their starters and bench might be the tallest in the OIA — and finished with 19 hard-earned points. Brendan Nakatani made several key plays on both ends. Guard Agaese Tago used his speed to convert some key buckets in transition.
Center Kaipo Pale, a lanky junior, came to life. After just five points and four boards in the first half against the larger DeCorte, Pale had a whale of a second half and finished with 16 points, 13 boards and two blocks. If DeCorte was a power puncher early on, Pale was the endurance man, continuing to battle inside against a pack of physical Surfriders.
Yogi finished with six points, two rebounds, two dimes, one steal and two turnovers. Pedestrian stats, perhaps. But for one night, at least, basketball nerds could tune in to the live TV broadcast and feel vindicated. It wasn’t the big guy or the high-flying athlete who stole the show. On Roosevelt’s yellow brick road to the title game, it was the brainy guy who brought the Lion a heart just in the nick of time.
For one night, Chase Yogi was Mr. +21.
• The Surfriders opened the lead to 46-25 in the third quarter on back-to-back treys by Valenzuela and Nakakura.
• That’s when Kailua’s 2-3 zone, which had been so effective, began to loosen up. With 7:33 left, Roosevelt got within 46-39 on a steal and layup by Agaese Tago.
• Kailua pushed the lead back to 10, but Roosevelt answered with a 12-3 run.Mitchell scored eight of his team-high 19 points during the rally. After Pale gave his team the lead, Roosevelt spread the floor and never relinquished the lead.
• Up 59-57 with 3.7 seconds left, Mitchell put the game away with two foul shots.
• DeCorte finished with 21 points and 13 boards to pace Kailua. Nakakura tallied 17 points.
• The Surfriders committed 15 of their 21 turnovers after halftime.