Underdogs, pumpkins and broken dreams

Campbell's Michael Merchant was trapped by Kamehameha Hawaii’s Pukana Vincent (22) and Bayley-Allen Manliguis on Wednesday. Cindy Ellen Russell / Star-Advertiser
Campbell’s Michael Merchant was trapped by Kamehameha Hawaii’s Pukana Vincent (22) and Bayley-Allen Manliguis on Wednesday. Cindy Ellen Russell / Star-Advertiser

Cinderella knocked on the door, but she never entered tonight’s games after all.

In both opening-round games at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium on Wednesday, underdogs had favorites on the ropes. In both matchups, it looked very much like Kamehameha-Hawaii had a real shot to knock out Campbell, and Leilehua had a chance to put ILH runner-up ‘Iolani away.

Instead, Campbell, the OIA’s fifth-place team, rallied from a 30-26 deficit for a 42-34 win. The senior-heavy team found a way to overcome its turnover issues to stifle a young Warriors team that placed a close second to Konawaena in the BIIF.

It was almost as if the Sabers wanted to give the game away — again — in those final 2 minutes, throwing two passes away while clinging to a narrow lead. Jomar “Jett” Gapusan told me after the game that he still feels like they gave away that overtime loss to Farrington in the OIA quarterfinals. Yet, the Sabers are throwing one-handed passes to teammates who are cutting instead of catching, rushing on passes instead of making basic, simple, fundamental jump stops and being patient.

It’s a wonder they pulled out the win, but they made enough clutch plays to earn it. Coach Wyatt Tau credited burly reserve forward Isaiah Gibson for pulling down four “crucial” rebounds. All Tau wanted from Gibson was to box out and play solid basketball. Points would’ve been gravy.

KS-Hawaii coach Dominic Pacheco couldn't overcome 39 turnovers by his team. Cindy Ellen Russell / Star-Advertiser
KS-Hawaii coach Dominic Pacheco couldn’t overcome 13 turnovers by his team. Cindy Ellen Russell / Star-Advertiser

It was, of course, defense that saved the Sabers. Lamart Dudley with 14 rebounds and 10 points. David Marrero, their 6-foot-7 center, with seven blocks and 11 points.

Leilehua? This 37-36 loss might go down as the most bitter in the program’s long history. The OIA’s fourth-place team had a 28-19 lead over defending state champion ‘Iolani in the third quarter. I got this strange, luxuriant vibe from the past. Anyone remember the day Villanova shot 79 percent from the field to upset Georgetown in the NCAA title game? Yep, these mighty Mules had that same feel, just could not miss much from the field, and the Raiders couldn’t seem to get their usual truckload of offensive rebounds.

Coach Patrick Wetzel’s game plan was being executed perfectly. If any coach statewide has gotten 100-percent effort from his team on a daily basis, Wetzel is one who comes to mind.

But what can you do when your team is simply short of pure shooters? Players win games, coaches lose them, but OIA West boys basketball teams have been notorious for decades for being better suited to bombing their way through crunch time rather than executing clock management.

Not so many years ago, one coach of a prominent OIA West program told me, “We tried to stall all year, but it doesn’t work for us. Our guys kept turning the ball over. So we decided to just play our regular game.”

The Mules control the ball fairly well against most teams. ‘Iolani brought on-ball pressure, used some traps, and Leilehua’s response was to attack selectively. A lot, actually.

Instead of milking that nine-point lead, the Mules went for the kill, and those 3-pointers that dropped early found the iron unkind in the final 12 minutes. The Raiders took advantage, Hugh Hogland played like a beast (two dunks) and inch by inch, ‘Iolani climbed back in.

The Raiders solved the Leilehua 1-2-2 matchup zone, getting open looks from Erik Yamada, getting pump-fake, baseline drives for dishes and deuces by Robby Mann. ‘Iolani didn’t even have to apply fullcourt pressure at any point during the game. Whether that’s because coach Dean Shimamoto was fully confident in his halfcourt man defense, or whether he knew the Mules didn’t have the patience to work the clock — ‘Iolani Raiders style — for only high-percentage shots, I don’t know.

It’s not that the Mules took a lot of bad shots. It’s more like, against a team as tall and physical as ‘Iolani, those normally uncontested 5- and 10-footers are tougher to hit. That’s why, when Pikai Winchester outwitted Nicholas Duran and picked him clean in the backcourt, hitting two foul shots for the Raiders’ 33-32 lead with 3:04 left, I doubt anyone in the gym was really surprised. Even those of us who were wondering if the Mules could pull off a mighty upset win.

What led to Winchester’s steal was Bryson Hamada’s glove-tight deny defense on Leilehua’s reliable point guard, Joseph Gouty. After seeing Leilehua play three or four times this season, it was the first time I saw any defender successfully deny Gouty the ball, and the Mules simply didn’t have a Plan B. Duran looked uneasy, dribbled high, tried a spin move in direct traffic … I felt for the guy. He does a lot of good things for this team offensively, but advancing the basketball past midcourt — that’s a skill that is still golden. Hamada knew it, Winchester knew it, and the Raiders showed why they’re defending state champs tonight.

Here’s how the highlights of the second half rolled out.

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Leilehua got a transition 3-pointer from Anterrio Gainwell and a layup by Koa Kauhi to open a 24-16 lead early in the third quarter.

The Raiders got 3-point bombs from Erik Yamada to stay in range, but the Mules couldn’t seem to miss in the third quarter. Forward David Tibayan hit a contested 15-foot baseline jumper, and freshman Liam Fitzgerald banked in a 16-footer from straight on to open the lead to 28-19.

Yamada swished a trey from the top with less than 3 minutes left in the third quarter, cutting the margin to six points.

Leilehua shifted from man to 1-2-2 zone defense, but turnovers shifted momentum back to the Raiders. Hugh Hogland’s two-handed fastbreak dunk cut the lead to 28-24 late in the third.

Hogland’s low-post turnaround bucket cut the margin to two points early in the fourth quarter. Leilehua’s cold shooting lingered from near and far, and after Robby Mann drove the baseline and dished to Hogland for a resounding two-hand slam, the Raiders were again within two at 30-28 with 3:59 to play.

Hogland’s ensuing free throw capped a three-point play, but Joseph Gouty drove the lane and hit a double-pump layup past Hogland.

After Mann drove baseline for a layup, Pikai Winchester stole the ball from Nicholas Duran in the backcourt and hit two foul shots to give ‘Iolani a 33-32 lead with 3:04 remaining.

With just three team fouls, the Mules began to pile the up the personals. Erik Yamada hit two foul shots with 1:54 left for a 35-32 lead.

After Fitzgerald missed a corner 3, Hogland went to the line with 1:31 to play and missed the front of a 1-and-1.

Gouty sank two foul shots with 1:14 left, slicing the margin to 35-34.

Winchester stepped to the line with 1:05 remaining and missed his 1-and-1. Mann came down with the offensive board, but Gouty stole the ball and drove upcourt. His drive to the bucket was stuffed by Hogland, who avoided fouling and blocked the shot.

After Yamada sank two more free throws to open the lead to 37-34 with 46 seconds left,
the final seconds may have been the most heartbreaking of the night for the Mules. They kept looking for an open 3. ‘Iolani would not oblige.

Finally, Gouty drove and scored on a layup with 5 seconds left. Leilehua, out of time outs, could only stand and watch as the Raiders allowed the ball to roll out of bounds, and time ticked off the clock to :00.

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Like the Campbell/KS-Hawaii game, the seniors of ‘Iolani withstood the heat, beating a Leilehua team heavily dependent on underclassmen. When the Raiders meet MIL champion Lahainaluna on Thursday, make no doubt about it, public perception will be that the Lunas are underdogs, not the defending state champs. And when Campbell takes on Farrington, the Governors will no longer have that status as an underdog squad. They are seeded second and they are the favorite against Campbell.

Sometimes, as ‘Iolani can testify, being on top can be a difficult place to reside.

Here’s to every team getting a very good night’s rest. The Big Dance is in full swing.


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