Most nights, the dynasty of ‘Iolani girls basketball vanquishes foes through sheer speed, smarts and savvy.
On Thursday, the Raiders needed more against the tall Skyhawks of Southridge. The seven-time Oregon 6A state champions came to the islands with a 4-0 record. Mia Frye, Keiki McGee, Justice Kekauoha, Hailey Fernandez stood their ground on the perimeter as “Iolani (12-2) utilized tough man-to-man defense against the Skyhawks.
The Hawks’ ability to crash the offensive glass, however, could have been an issue with 6-foot-4 center Addison White. This is why Mele Sake is a force of nature, even though she is just nine months removed from a knee injury. With Callie Pieper unavailable, Sake played major minutes for the first time this season and protected the paint for ‘Iolani. The 6-1 senior scored 15 points and Frye had 14 in ‘Iolani’s 44-30 win over Southridge.
Wearing a brace on her right knee, Sake showed zero ill effects from the injury that sidelined her through the summer — an unpleasant scenario for the energetic Raider. On Thursday, she was active on both boards, ran the floor and even led a fast break, finishing with an assist as the Raiders turned an 18-14 halftime deficit into a decisive win.
“I feel great. I was just out of shape,” Sake said.
She pushed herself, and for the most part, kept up with her speedy teammates. Impressive, to say the least, less than a year after ACL surgery. Facing Sake, White finished with three points.
“I like going against taller bigs. I feel like I play way better. I think we moved the ball well, but there were times when we panicked too much and turned it over,” Sake said. “We were getting sped up.”
Southridge, like a majority of mainland teams that have played in the 50th state this winter, used zone defense from start to finish. ‘Iolani didn’t settle strictly for 3-point shots, though, often going inside out to get good looks. Frye, a point guard, continues to station herself at the high post, the hub of ‘Iolani’s zone offense. The Raiders got better against the zone with each possession.
“They were in the (‘Iolani) Classic five, six years ago, so they reached out saying, ‘Hey, we’re coming to Hawaii. Can we set up a game?’ We were able to work it out. We jumped on it,” Raiders coach Dean Young said. “Mele and Callie can play 50-50, and if someone’s in foul trouble or tired or hurt, you can adjust that. Her sister did good. She hasn’t had that many minutes so I’m happy for her. What really helped us was playing in the Classic, right? Facing those girls with those crazy big zones and that pressure, definitely prepared us for today.”
Southridge got some cold-blooded shooting from the arc by Sara Mangan (11 points, three treys), but she made only one more 3-point attempt after tying the game at 19 early in the third quarter. The Skyhawks will play at Campbell on Friday night. Southridge had its share of good looks inside and out, but had the familiar misfires shown by mainland teams in their first games here.
“What I liked is we played a fast team, which we haven’t really played a team that fast yet. They’re a really confident team and run their stuff well,” coach Michael Bergmann said. “We started off and we were just mentally not in it. They hit us so hard, and we haven’t had that happen yet this year.”
The Skyhawks, from Beaverton, are ranked No. 7 in Oregon.
“I like how we responded in the second quarter. What we need to get better at is just finishing when things aren’t going well. I think we actually got pretty good shots a lot of times, and then adjusting to how it’s being called. I thought they called it really equal, but we had too many times when we were trying to beg for a call instead of just playing,” he said.
The season is young. Bergmann is in his 11th season as head coach.
“What I’m looking for is for us to gel. It kind of showed today we were kind of not all playing at the same time on the same page,” he said. “Trying to make a hard play when we could’ve made an easy play. That will come. We’re not young, but we have several new players. This is going to be good for us. Coming to Hawaii, for us, is a special thing. It’s exciting. I really want these kids to have fun and just have the experience, and they’re having it.”