Somewhere during the smattering of losses to Baldwin, Waiakea, Kailua, Moanalua and Kahuku, Steve Hathaway and his staff got the binoculars out.
For Roosevelt, the rewards would come much further down the road. The fourth-seeded Rough Riders knocked out No. 1 seed Hawaii Prep on Thursday night and will battle Kohala for the Division II state championship at Stan Sheriff Center.
OIA D-II champion Roosevelt (12-7) doesn’t play with a chip on its shoulder, even as the lowest seeded of league champions. Hanalani was eliminated by McKinley in the first round after being pegged No. 2. The third seed, Kauai, fell to Kohala, also on Wednesday.
“I think we’re playing a little bit more disciplined,” Hathaway said. “Our defense has definitely stepped up the last two games. Seabury was big. I told them this is when we want our three best games of the year, so I hope it continues tonight.”
The Rough Riders knocked out MIL champion Seabury Hall 58-35 in the first round before stunning No. 1 seed Hawaii Prep 41-37 in the semifinals. Hathaway got a close look at Kohala, the BIIF runner-up, in a 45-27 win over McKinley. Roosevelt and McKinley split during the OIA season. The Rough Riders edged the Tigers 43-41 in the league final last week.
“Kohala is fast, oh my God. I don’t know if anyone in our conference is that quick. Maybe Moanalua. I like that kid O’shen (Cazimero). He can score, but I like his passing. He can drive and kick out well,” Hathaway said.
Roosevelt reached the semifinals of the 2000 state tourney, before there was a Division II. Before this week, the Rough Riders had not reached the semifinals of the D-II tourney. They’ve gotten this far by being patient.
“We’re so young. We’ve got three freshmen and two sophomores. Any other year, our guys would be on the JV, but we didn’t have many returnees, so we threw them in the fire,” Hathaway said.
Point guard Logan Quinlan’s emergence has been crucial.
“Once he took control, his turnovers dropped drastically. That’s been the key. He’s taken control of the team, and the young guys have grown up. The training wheels are off, you’ve got to go,” Hathaway said.
The Rough Riders still have flashes of that rookie mentality. In a playoff win over Kaimuki, the lead was just two points when they launched a string of 3-point misses in the final minutes. They made up for it with rugged defense and consistent rebounding. Drake Watanabe had 13 points and 12 rebounds in the win over HPA. Kamu Kaaihue finished with 12 rebounds and a key bucket down the stretch.
“He struggled early, but we ran a play for him with 19 seconds left and he makes the layup,” Hathaway said.
Watanabe played for Punahou before landing at Roosevelt.
“Drake brings that mentality. He told the boys last night, don’t let the Stan Sheriff (Center) get to you. It’s just a game, so go get it,” Hathaway said. “He’s become a big leader on this team.”
Win or lose, this is new ground for the Rough Riders, who have never played in a state final before. The core of underclassmen, including Cody Seguancia (nine points against HPA), Kaulana Koki, Quinlan and Watanabe, are talented enough to make title runs for years to come.
“They’re a good group. We also have some freshmen on the JV who were pretty good and will fit right in,” Hathaway said. “We’ll see.”