For five minutes, when warmups began, the Lady Falcons of Kalani went straight into defensive mode.
All footwork, sliding and angling on their side of the floor, working up a sweat. No basketball. After layups and other warmup shots, the Lady Falcons got defensive for 32 minutes against Castle, grinding out a 41-33 win at Earl C. Holmer Gymnasium.
Lile Oyama scored 15 points and sophomore Jennesice Sueing had 10 points and 11 rebounds as Kalani improved to 7-3 in the OIA East. Oyama also had six steals and Hallie Birdsong had four steals for Kalani’s physical, quick man-to-man defense. The Falcons have come a long way from the start of preseason and has won five in a row.
“The difference is that now we understand our plays and our movement better. It’s easier for us to know where it’s going to be open. We needed to work more on communicating with each other,” Oyama said. “Our coach (Justice Sueing) really stresses our defense because we foul a lot. We’re not on time to be at the spots we need to be at, so he wants us to become faster with our sliding and knowing when to recover so we won’t get beat and commit the foul.”
Castle dropped to 7-2 in league play, winning its first seven East games before losing to Kahuku on Tuesday and Kalani on Thursday. The Lady Knights committed 22 turnovers as the Falcons swarmed the floor and contested every shot. Oyama and her teammates have bought in 100 percent.
“Some days we emphasize more defense. Some days we work on our (offensive) plays,” Oyama said. “In our first practice, we spent half-an-hour to 45 minutes just doing defensive slides, learning how to recover, knowing how to anticipate and move with the ball as a team. We still practice moving ‘cause we still have a hard time moving as one, closing the gap. Coach says man defense is the best defense.”
Kalani 41, Castle 33, final (girls). Lile Oyama 15 plus 6 steals, Jennesice Sueing 10/11 as @KalaniAthletics improved to 6-3 in OIA East. Hallie Birdsong 6 pts 4 steals. Holly Quirit 15/12 for Castle (7-2). Kalani’s tough defense forced 22 turnovers by Castle.@HawaiiPrepWorld pic.twitter.com/L7G5VwrfNO
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) January 11, 2020
Holly Quirit paced Castle (11-4 overall) with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“If you watched us the whole season, we’re always like that in the beginning,” Castle coach Wendell Domingo said. “We have a slow start, then we start clicking. It comes off, then it clicks back on. We’re trying to nip that out for the ending part of the season. All our games, they never give up. No matter what the score, bottom line is finish out. Be competitive.”
Kalani’s tough defense may be one of the most intense in the state. It took Castle quite awhile to match the intensity level.
“Everybody else has been playing zone on us. Kalani playing man freaked out our girls a little. What we practice applies here in the game. We got a little bit of stage fright in the beginning,” Domingo said.
Kalani (7-8 overall) jumped to a 9-2 lead after Mandi Haraga’s first and only trey and continued the run into the second quarter. The Falcons opened their largest lead, 22-11, after Sueing scored on one of her seven offensive rebounds.
Castle found its footing and got six points from Kaylie Kamark in the second quarter to pull within 24-17 by halftime. After a bit of a skirmish near midcourt between Kalani’s Das Kelso and Castle’s Kelsey Bacoro, Kelso was whistled for a technical foul. Bacoro’s sank one foul shot to cut the lead to 30-24 with 2 minutes to go in the third quarter.
Kalani went on a 6-0 mini-run for a 36-24 lead after Sueing hustled for another putback. Quirit then got hot. She hustled for a loose ball and splashed a corner 3, and after she hit two foul shots a minute later, Castle was within 36-30.
With Kalani racking up fouls, the visiting Knights kept marching to the foul line. The Knights got within 37-32 on a low-post turnaround basket by Quirit with 1:05 left, but they got no closer.
Birdsong sank two foul shots down the stretch and Sueing added a follow shot to put the game out of reach.
Castle finished the game 6-for-16 at the free-throw line. Kalani committed nine less turnovers (13) and was just 3-for-6 at the charity stripe.
Castle’s 1-3-1 zone was risky, but effective. Kalani shot just 2-for-18 from 3-point range, but Coach Suing directed his team to attack the basket rather than settle for long-range shots in the fourth quarter.
Aside from takeaways, the other big plus for Kalani was on the offensive glass, where the Falcons amassed 17 offensive rebounds. The Falcons are looking like a team on the way to the state tournament.
“At first, in the beginning of the season, I didn’t know if we would be able to be the team we are right now. A lot of our players are new or only played for one or two years now, and a lot of people graduated,” Oyama said.
Kalani’s next game is at Kaimuki on Tuesday. Castle will host Moanalua on Tuesday.