For 24 minutes, the Lady Trojans of Mililani looked the part of a league champion.
The Kalani Falcons simply persisted. On a night when shots weren’t falling and there was scarcely an offensive rebound to be seen, the Lady Falcons rallied in the final quarter for a 38-34 semifinal win over Mililani on Tuesday night at Radford.
On Thursday, No. 4 Kalani will meet No. 9 Kahuku for the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I championship, again on Radford’s pristine hardwood floor.
“My stress level went down tremendously. I was up until 5 in the morning,” Kalani coach Chi Mok said. “Every playoff is like that. I’m sure when Wednesday night comes, it’ll be the same thing.”
Sophomore guard Kalena Halunajan and sharpshooter Alayna Akiona scored 12 points apiece to lead Kalani, the second-place team from the OIA East.
“They kept pushing the ball every time they got it and we weren’t able to stop them on defense,” Halunajan said of the first half. “But we started pressing them and they turned over the ball.”
Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole struggled offensively against Mililani’s lineup of tall, long, physical defenders, but she scored the go-ahead bucket on a hook shot in the paint to give Kalani the lead for good, 34-32, with 5:17 left.
“They weren’t calling fouls, but we’ve got to keep playing. That’s how it’s going to be with some refs, and we just have to keep fighting through it,” Kamakawiwo‘ole said. “Coach Jesse (Victorino) makes me practice the hook. I was off-balance, too, when I shot it.”
Akiona, who said she generally had an off shooting night, came up with a key steal and layup on the ensuing inbounds pass to increase the lead to 36-32 with 5:07 left.
“We noticed that they weren’t able to handle the pressure, so we kept pressing them,” Akiona said. “We had a hard time trapping Dahlis (Sablay) because she’s able to dribble right through us.”
Mililani got within two points on free throws by Sablay, but got no closer. Kalani spread the court and forced the Trojans to play chase master.
Kamakawiwo‘ole’s free throws with 30.7 seconds left opened the lead to its final four-point margin. Mililani’s Kalena Gibson missed a straightaway 3, and after Daesha Viela missed the front side of a one-and-one, the Trojans threw away the outlet pass — Sablay had fouled out on the previous play.
The heartbreak for Mililani was real. The Trojans gave Kalani a tough battle in last year’s OIA playoffs, as well.
“Our team played hard and had a lot of fight in us,” Trojans coach Michael Oyama said. “Kalani did well at what they do best. We didn’t have enough composure and didn’t take care of the ball. We didn’t convert on our end. It’s frustrating.”
Gibson led Mililani (16-4 overall) with nine points and Sablay finished with seven. The Trojans ran the floor and left the normally speedy Falcons in the tracks, opening an eight-point lead in the first half. Eventually, Kalani’s fullcourt press — the Falcons didn’t open the game with it — took a toll.
“We didn’t panic,” Mok said. “We knew we’d make our run. We had a lot of layups that didn’t fall. Alayna hit some key 3’s, and she had good defensive pressure. We look for that, scoring four, six, maybe eight points in one minute. We tell them don’t hang your head because you never know what’s coming next. I give credit to Mililani. They came out prepared and they play great team basketball.”
Kalani (20-6, 10-1 OIA) 5 12 11 10 — 38
Mililani (16-4, 10-0 OIA) 8 10 14 2 — 34
Kalani: Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole 4, Daesha Viela 2, Alayna Akiona 12, Kalena Halunajan 12, Heidi Kishaba 5, Shelby McDaniel 3, Kandyce Woods 0.
Mililani: Kayla Tansiongco 0, Jailah Bowen 6, Kylie Bagay 5, Dahlis Sablay 7, Kianna Ponce 5, Kalena Gibson 9, Madison Ayers 2.
3-point goals: Kalani 2 (Akiona, Kishaba), Mililani 2 (Bagay, Sablay).