The eye test isn’t everything, but after three quarters, it didn’t seem to make sense that Kapolei was up just six points on Kaimuki.
The Hurricanes wore down the Bulldogs in the final quarter, and their 54-36 win means Kapolei is now in the quarterfinal round of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I playoffs. Even if they lose to East 1 Kahuku, the ‘Canes would still have a shot at one of the six state-tournament berths available. Kapolei (10-7 overall, 6-6 in league play) could seal a state-tournament berth win a win at Kahuku on Thursday.
With explosive, long athletes and a balanced roster, Kapolei threatened to pull away in the first three quarters, but couldn’t seem to close the deal. Kaimuki, led by an all-state guard in Kaelyn Espinda, got timely buckets from Samantha Ono and Jasmine Chipen-Ii in the third quarter to stay close.
But the story has been the same for the gritty Bulldogs, who played the season with a small roster — usually between five and seven players. Even with the addition of three JV players — Ivy Ruben scored five points in the first quarter — there was no way to slow the speedy Hurricanes down in the final stanza.
With a heavy reliance on underclassmen, Kapolei got 26 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks from sophomore Hadassah “Lasi” Tuiolemotu to overpower the visiting Bulldogs in the final quarter.
Hurricanes coach James Aronica will see a familiar face when his team arrives in Big Red country. He was an assistant coach at Kahuku in 2004 when Latoya Wily was a dominant all-state post scorer. Wily is now in her third season as the Lady Raiders’ head coach.
“Lasi is our mini-Latoya,” Aronica said.
The Hurricanes also got nine points apiece from point guard Julia Velasco and wing Analisa Liotta, a pair of swift-footed playmakers in transition. Defense, though, is where Aronica and his staff got supreme effort. To counter Espinda, Kapolei used a box-and-one defense. Ayanna Nunuha, Tiffany Mook, Sam Santaniello, Kaydee Young and Velasco took turns playing sticky defense on Espinda, who still managed to score 23 points and grab 15 rebounds.
Without the concerted effort, Espinda could have gone off for 35 or 40 points.
“Ayana was our main defender on her,” Aronica said.
Espinda played center on defense, ran the point on offense, set up teammates for open shots, and played all 32 minutes. It was another heroic effort by the senior and her teammates, who endured adversity all season long. There might not be another team that lost more players to off-court issues the past two seasons than Kaimuki, but the iron women who stuck it out were resilient.
“We could’ve done better,” Espinda said. “But we definitely got better. We’ve come a long way.”
Kaimuki (12-12) 10 8 12 6 — 36
Kapolei (10-7) 7 19 10 18 – 54
Kaimuki: Jasmine Chipen-Ii 2, Anthonette Leopardis 0, Samantha Ono 5, Misha Remigio 1, Kaelyn Espinda 23, Nani Pfeiffer-Kekoa 0, Ivy Ruben 5.
Kapolei: Julia Velasco 9, Sienna Alo 6, Kaydee Young 1, Sam Santaniello 0, Analisa Liotta 9, Lasi Tuiolemotu 26, Tiffany Mook 0, Ayanna Nunuha 3.
3-point goals: Kaimuki 2 (Espinda, Ruben), Kapolei 3 (Velasco 2, Liotta).
OIA PlayoffsUpdated: Jan. 24
|1/16||Kapolei (W4)||Kaimuki (E5)||Kapo, 54-36|
|1/16||Kaiser (E3)||Nanakuli (W6)||Kais, 56-40|
|1/16||Leilehua (W3)||Roosevelt (E6)||Lei, 45-32|
|1/16||Moanalua (E4)||Waianae (W5)||Moan, 55-47 (OT)|
|1/17||Kahuku (E1)||Kapolei||Kah, 48-38|
|1/17||Radford (W2)||Kaiser||Kais, 57-48 (OT)|
|1/17||Kalani (E2)||Leilehua||Kaln, 67-47|
|1/17||Mililani (W1)||Moanalua||Mil, 63-51|
|Consolation semifinals—at Higher Seed|
|Semifinals — At Radford|
|Fifth place—At Higher seed|
|Third place—At Higher seed|
|Championship — At Radford|
|1/16||Pearl City (W2)||Kalaheo (E3)||PC, 54-51|
|1/16||Farrington (E2)||Waialua (W3)||Far, 60-34|
|1/22||Castle (E1)||Pearl City||Cast, 51-14|
|1/22||Waipahu (W1)||Farrington||Far, 62-60|
|Third place—At Higher seed|
|1/24||Pearl City||Waipahu||Waip, 41-33|
|Championship— At Radford|
|1/24||Castle||Farrington||Cast, 63-52 (OT)|