There were two Cinderellas at the ball on Thursday night.
The one wearing a flowing velvet maroon gown, Farrington, turned out to be the princess of OIA Division I basketball following a 45-37 win over Kaimuki at Waipahu’s gym. The Lady Governors proved that, yes, working smart and hard every day does make a difference. A big one, enough to beat the same Kaimuki team it had lost to 50-35 just six weeks earlier.
“Nothing went our way that day,” said Caroline Tatupu, who has now steered the Lady Governors to four OIA D-I championships. “Our shots weren’t dropping and we got into foul trouble.”
This time, the Lady Govs showed the kind of development that only comes from constant, consistent work every day. Their IQ as a team leaped to an elite level. Their toughness and determination manifested through sticky defense. On a night when standout Moli Heimuli had “only” 20 points and eight rebounds — often triple-teamed by Kaimuki everywhere from the low post to midcourt — everyone else elevated her game.
Sophomore point guard Shayla Cabato-Machado, possibly one of the most improved players of the year, was steady with the ball, grabbing all six of her rebounds in the first half, directing traffic. She finished with only one turnover.
Senior Chantal Mailou scored nine big points, including another 3-pointer — she has become a money shooter when the Govs reverse the ball against zone — along with nine rebounds, five steals and two assists. She was everywhere, her long arms to create havoc at times.
The biggest surprises, though, were from junior guard Kylie Carganilla and senior center Naomi Peltier. While Kaimuki’s primary contributors mostly struggled for the first time in ages, Farrington’s secondary options became hugely valuable. Carganilla sank two 3-pointers in the first half to help the Govs take a 21-12 lead at the break. She finished with 10 points, well above her average.
Peltier, at 6 feet, had a game-high 10 rebounds to go with five points. If anyone was an x-factor, it was the active Peltier. She actually could become a major factor at the state tourney; Peltier made just two of her eight shots, all at the rim.
Kaimuki came out gunning, as always. The Bulldogs, who had splashed 10 3-pointers in two games during the past two weeks, simply couldn’t hit. Maybe the moment finally, finally got too big for a team dependent on relatively young — and new – players. While Victoria Kintz motored all night and finished with 23 points and four rebounds, her usual partners in the offensive attack were ice cold.
Kaelyn Espinda scored six points, accounting for all two of Kaimuki’s treys. The sophomore has been exceptional this season, but missed her first six tries from deep before hitting the pivotal treys in the final quarter to spark what was nearly a fairy-tale comeback to victory.
Junior guard Sirena Titer shot 0-for-4 from 3-point range, and sophomore Sonia Palik was 1-for-8 from the field, including 0-for-6 from the arc. With a lineup of two seniors and an average height of 5-foot-5 — including the recent addition of a seldom-used 5-10 JV player — Coach Mona Fa‘asoa had rolled the dice on her team’s marksmanship.
It was a strategy that brought Kaimuki to the D-I final with a 11-1 record, remarkable since the Bulldogs had spent the past two years in D-II. But with all those misses, 2-for-20 on the night, and just five offensive rebounds, there were simply too many empty possessions. But the looks were there. Farrington contested just enough of those looks to make a difference.
The tell-tale stretch came late in the third quarter with Heimuli out of the game with foul trouble. Kaimuki failed to score in those 3 minutes and 39 seconds, and Farrington actually extended a seven-point lead to 29-19.
“We’ve always been stressing defense,” Tatupu said. “Stop their penetration. More boxing out.”
For the first time during Kintz’s years at Kaimuki, which won the OIA D-II title games in 2015 and ’16, she tasted defeat in a league championship game. Kintz spent much of the game attacking Farrington’s interior, taking a beating and getting up each time for more. Twelve of her 23 points came in the final quarter. She cried in Fa‘asoa’s arms for what seemed like an eternity after the game. Soon, they let it go and moved on; the state tourney begins on Monday.
“It’s been tiring, playing back to back,” Fa‘asoa said. “Playing on Tuesday or Wednesday would be better.”
The day after has been a quiet one for the Lady Govs. School is out due to teachers’ institute day. The high fives and props are alive and well in cyberspace form. The campus is quiet, but for the sound of bouncing basketballs in Kitamura Gymnasium.
Tatupu didn’t need any time at all to compare this hard-working squad to the ones that won titles in 2009, ’10 and 11. Those teams featured some superbly talented players, including current assistant coach Brydgette Tatupu-Leopoldo.
“This season has been harder. The girls worked hard,” she said. “They’ve come a long way.”
How long? The Governors lost at Sacred Hearts (45-40) to start preseason. SHA turned out to be a very competitive team. Then came a 45-26 loss at Kamehameha. Not a surprise. Then came wins over Mid-Pacific (52-47) and Moanalua (52-25), followed by a 38-37 loss to Kalani. Not bad in sum, but certainly not title-ready. Yet. Since losing at Kaimuki, Farrington has now won 11 games in a row, including Top 10 teams Leilehua and Kaimuki.
Farrington rose to No. 9 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 this week, but Heimuli seems to prefer the underdog role. Maybe even relish it. The 6-foot senior with a non-stop motor was just a keiki at Kalihi Waena Elementary School during the previous D-I title run.
“We’ve got to step up,” she said just moments after the win. “We’ll be ready for states.”