Keone Labuanan says there was absolutely no way that revenge played a motivational factor when his Seabury Hall Spartans met Hawaii Baptist on Thursday night.
Nine months after HBA edged Seabury Hall in the Division II state final, 43-39, Labuanan’s team learned plenty. Senior Anau Tu‘ivai powered the Spartans with 21 points in a 33-29 win over the Eagles on Thursday in the opening round of The Invitational at Sacred Hearts Academy.
“I wouldn’t say revenge because it’s just the preseason. It’s just one that we were looking forward to,” Labuanan said. “We needed to play in this tournament just to get the experience.”
Tu‘ivai and the returning seniors already had the experience of losing to HBA. Last year’s squad went 14-0 before losing to HBA in the state final.
“We came here hungry. We’re very hungry, but we’re also composed. Last year, we were young. I think we learned a lot from that loss. I think it built us up for this moment, but there’s many more that’s going to come. This an extra step to what’s going to come next. We’re going to work toward that,” she said.
Leela Waterford added six points for Seabury Hall. Alexis Dang led HBA with nine points and Sasha Phillips added seven. Seabury Hall will meet Radford in the semifinal round on Friday.
“I think we matched up pretty well. Me, my sister and our teammates were like, OK, I’m probably going to have Sasha. We knew what we were going to get into,” Tu‘ivai said. “We wanted to bring the fire and make sure that people don’t really sleep on us. We’re here to play.”
Seabury Hall did it with just eight players in uniform. Three of them had never played before this season.
“They started playing 10 days ago,” said Tu‘ivai, a 6-foot senior who often dominated the paint. “They play other sports.”
Labuanan said it is a similar scenario to last season, when three volleyball players were recruited to play for the hoops team. They did not return, so coaches and players were on the lookout for new additions.
“Fortunately, we got three new, awesome girls who are brand new to the game. We’re just trying to get them comfortable and progress them as much as we can before the season starts,” Labuanan said.
The new players did just enough. Two of them played less than a minute, but it gave Seabury Hall’s fatigued guards a breather in the final 90 seconds and the lead at six points.
HBA pulled within 32-29, but Tu‘ivai’s free throw with 14.9 seconds sealed the win.
“Yeah, we were excited when we heard who we got match up with in the first game,” Labuanan said. “Of course, the girls were really looking forward to this game. The HBA girls are awesome. They don’t quit. They’re very tenacious against the ball. They put a lot of pressure. We knew it was coming.”
The Spartans rolled to a quick 9-0 lead behind a corner 3 by Leela Waterford and the dominance of Tu‘ivai. They opened the lead to 16-3 by the end of the first quarter.
HBA gradually found holes in Seabury Hall’s 3-2 zone and rallied in the second quarter, cutting the lead to 17-10.
The Spartans struggled at times against HBA’s tight man-to-man defense and got whistled twice for offensive fouls on push-offs. Labuanan spent a time out to discuss the matter of hand-checking and bumping with the lead official. Meanwhile, the Eagles cut the lead to 22-20 late in the third quarter.
Tu‘ivai returned at the start of the fourth quarter, moved her feet, played solid position defense and was key to the Spartans’ 1-3-1 matchup zone. Her sophomore sister, Pio Tu‘ivai, was a stellar ballhandler along with Leela Waterford, who hit two key 3-pointers. Ameera Waterford and Brittlay Carillo were also crucial to handling the strong defensive pressure by HBA.
Pio Tu’ivai hit a key free throw in the final stretch to help stave off the Eagles.
“It was not a test to try and beat them, but it was to see how far we’ve come from last year,” Labuanan said. “To be honest, with the returnees, we’re at about a 7 (out of 10). We really work hard on conditioning, you know. They knew they’re going to have to play a lot of minutes. We try to get them their rest, but it’s hard when you don’t want the game to get too close with our starters on the bench.”
Two more players stayed back and didn’t travel. That will help, too. For now, the Spartans can savor their small, tiny dose of sweet redemption.
Radford 30, Kalani 26
In the earlier game, Angel Assal scored 11 points to lead the Rams past the Falcons. Lilehina Oyama led Kalani with 10 points and Hallie Birdsong added nine.
3:30 p.m. Kalani vs. Hawaii Baptist
5 p.m. McKinley vs. Mililani
6:30 p.m. Sacred Hearts vs. Punahou
8 p.m. Radford vs. Seabury Hall
10:30 a.m. Seventh place
Noon Fifth place
1:30 p.m. Third place
3 p.m. Championship