There was a point early in the second quarter of the Division II state championship game with Sacred Hearts when the Hawaii Baptist ohana held their collective breath.
With 5:42 left before halftime, Joey Lin went down and stayed down. The arena went dead silent.
“The injuries to us happened all season long,” HBA coach Robin Yamaguchi said. “So our thought was Alyssa Young has to step up again.”
The Eagles were ready. After weeks of ups, downs, injuries and recoveries, they were forged like steel. Hayley Taka, one of the comeback kids who overcame an ankle injury early in the season, swished a baseline jumper. HBA took an 11-9 lead.
Young played a modest nine minutes, but her ability to make plus plays kept the Eagles balanced and leveraged for a surge. She played a total of nine minutes, scoring two points and hustling for four rebounds, adding a steal.
Lin returned and drove for a left-handed layup late in the second quarter to give the Eagles a 16-9 lead. Lin also added four consecutive free throws to start the second half — after missing four in the opening quarter — to keep HBA’s momentum flowing. In the third quarter, Lin reinjured the ankle when Taka inadvertently fell back into her on a three-point play in the key by Taka. Still, the Eagles never looked back en route to a 41-28 win over the Lancers for their third state crown in seven years.
Lin, a 5-foot-9 junior, finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block to earn all-tournament most outstanding player honors.
Emi Wada, Taka and Careah Baitlon also earned all-tournament honors.
Athletic trainers Sam Lee and Karin Carido may never see another season like this again. Patching up the injured Eagles and helping them stay upright through the last few weeks of the season was a work of wonder.
“We have two of the most caring and knowledgable (athletic) trainers,” Yamaguchi said.
A 15-11 overall record and final No. 8 ranking in the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10 do not do justice to the beauty of what Hawaii Baptist did in girls basketball this season. Enduring injuries to three starters: Lin, Taka and guard Brianne Pascua. A 1-7 mark in preseason, then a seven-game win streak in league play, followed by a rough stretch in late February, a three-game skid. Hawaii Baptist limped into the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships. The one saving grace: a top-three finish in the ILH afforded the Eagles a bye week to heal up.
Did they ever. Despite the marathon four-game, four-day gauntlet, HBA captured its third state title in the last seven years. The team from lower Nuuanu Valley crushed Pearl City, 53-30, and stifled Kauai, 34-29. In the semifinal round, HBA outlasted Hanalani, 35-29.
Then, it was a remarkable victory over Sacred Hearts.
The amazing feat by HBA is further confirmation that the Eagles’ long-held belief that diversification always matters more than star power. Over the course of the season, Wada was their leading scorer (10 ppg), while Lin was second (9 ppg). Taka was third (8 ppg), was sorely missed during her injury comeback. Baitlon stepped up big at states, particularly in the final against Sacred Hearts.
Four games, four wins, in four nights.
“When we were in the ‘Iolani Classic, when we were on the mainland, we went three, four games in a row, so they’re in pretty good shape,” Yamaguchi said. “Joey was consistent all the way and she rebounded very well in this tournament.”
The journey itself was a wonder. After blowout losses to host ‘Iolani and Maryknoll to begin nonconference play, the Eagles gave Kamehameha a battle before falling, 55-45.
One week later, HBA beat eventual OIA runner-up Mililani, 54-39, when the Eagles made seven 3-pointers and led by as many as 32 points. Then came the trip to California, where HBA faced schools with comparatively massive enrollments and lost four games in four days. Looking back, Yamauchi would not change a thing
“Just because we played that preseason so hard, we battled through bigger teams, better teams, I think it really helped us,” he said. “Even though our team is small, they’re crisp with their passing, their movement is really good, so we learned a lot on the mainland. It was worth it because we bonded well up there.”
Pascua, one of the Eagles who recovered from injury, had no regrets about the 0-4 road trip.
“Those teams were far more aggressive and, I think, and equally or more skilled than the teams we played in our ILH division, so it really helped us to push and work on what we needed,” Pascua said.
Young was one of the reserves who was pressed into duty during the California trip.
“I think Alyssa, because Hayley didn’t come on the trip, she learned how to shoot bunny shots better,” Yamaguchi said.
By the end, in a marathon tournament with most teams running on fumes, HBA was raining in 3-pointers and handling Sacred Hearts’ defensive pressure fluidly.
“They did a lot of preseason work. A lot of running. They did a lot of workouts every day in the summer and the early part of October,” Yamaguchi said. “Even though there was COVID, they were able to work out on their own.”
Working through injury was another key factor. Taka went to a specialist for her recovery.
“I went to a massage person in Kaimuki area. It was pretty painful. No, no screaming. More crying,” she said. “So, apparently, my muscles in my calf were fighting against each other, so he tried to massage it out so they would be working in the right place. He told me that walking on sand would help it so I could get the movement in.”
Pascua had a high-ankle sprain, but she missed just two weeks.
“We have this treatment called Game-Ready (compression therapy device) with our trainers. They use cold air and they compress it on your ankle,” the senior said.
Young’s hip “was out of place” at one point in the late season.
“I had to get it put back in place by the chiropractor. He realigned me and did a lot of deep tissue massage,” she said. “I was out for two weeks.”
Senior Zoe Lorica suffered a torn labrum during volleyball season and had surgery.
“I was out for the whole (basketball) season, but I got in for a couple of seconds in the game,” Lorica said of the state final.
Through the tailspin and pain, the hope and prayers, the Eagles knew who had their backs.
“Definitely, our coaches,” Wada said. “They believed in us the most and they just kept believing in us every practice and every game.”