The wheels were wobbling.
After owning a 29-12 lead in the second quarter, Moanalua saw Kaimuki come rallying like crazy. Na Menehune shot 1-for-12 from the field in the third quarter. Kaimuki gunner Kaelyn Espinda caught fire, scoring 11 points in the third as the visiting Bulldogs pulled within 36-30.
Then Raven Rosa-Lasco took over. The senior pumped in 10 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter, hitting five of her six field-goal attempts, as Moanalua roared to 62-38 win on Wednesday night.
“Actually, she’s a spark plug and turns it on when she wants to. She’s a leader. I told her the girls are going to follow you, whatever you do,” Moanalua coach Kirk Ronolo said. “She understands, we run the offense, we get better looks. She knows when we need her.”
Na Menehune outscored Kaimuki 26-8 in the final eight minutes, using a speedy transition offense. The home team shot 75 percent from the floor in the fourth (12-for-16) and had just one turnover.
Moanalua (7-8 overall) is now tied with Kaimuki (10-8) at 4-3 in the OIA East, tied for fifth place in the Division I race. It’s a crucial position because one of the seven teams in East D-I will not qualify for the playoffs. McKinley is currently in the seventh spot at 3-3, just a half-game behind.
“We’re missing one of our girls, Caydees Santana-Delima. She had to go to Maui for family (reasons),” Ronolo said. “We were kind of short with our bigs. She usually comes off the bench and gives us a good spark defensively. So, I didn’t want to put our press on too early, but they were getting shots up, so we started our press a little sooner and it worked out.”
Moanalua shot nearly 47 percent from the field (28-for-60) and limited Kaimuki to 27-percent shooting (13-for-48). Many of those misses came on blown layups in the first half, when the visiting Bulldogs shot 5-for-29 from the field.
“There is a whole lot to work on. A little bit of nerves, a little bit of rushing,” Kaimuki coach Jordan Wong said. “Those are shots we work on all the time.”
Sierra Kauweloa added 13 points, including five in the final period, and Kylie Casinas chipped in nine for Moanalua. Mercedes Smith was steady with six points and a team-high nine rebounds. Na Menehune outrebounded Kaimuki 38-33.
The home team did all it could to discourage Espinda, a returning Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 selection. Moanalua used fullcourt man coverage with sophomore Dionna Woodson to make the Bulldog senior exert maximum energy. Espinda took advantage of the lack of fullcourt coverage early in the third quarter when she hit her third and fourth 3-pointers of the game.
Coach Ronolo then sent Woodson back on Espinda in the backcourt, and most of the night, Moanalua extended its reach with a 1-3-1 zone. Espinda finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists. She shot 4-for-9 from the arc and 6-for-20 overall as Na Menehune converged on her constantly with physical defense.
Moanalua opened a 10-0 lead before Kaimuki ended the scoring drought with an NBA-range 3 by Espinda with 3:50 left in the opening quarter. Espinda banked in 32-foot trey to end the first period, and the visitors pulled within 12-9 early in the second quarter on a steal and layup by Jasmine Chipen-Ii.
Moanalua responded with a 17-3 run, forcing turnovers with a fullcourt press — Kaimuki had 10 giveaways by halftime — to open a 29-12 lead.
As Moanalua went cold in the third stanza. Rosa-Lasco took only one shot and was scoreless, and the Bulldogs shot 56 percent from the field. Espinda’s step-back jumper from the wing brought them within six points entering the final quarter.
“Third quarter, we kind of got into foul trouble. Espinda is a hell of a player and I tried to tell the girls we have to know where she is at all times and deny as much as we can,” Ronolo said. “There were a couple where we got lazy getting to back to her. Our wing man’s got to hustle and get back and we got lazy.”
All four of Espinda’s treys, two in the first quarter and two in the third, were from 24 to 26 feet away.
“She got off a couple (in the third) and they went in, but for the most part I think we did pretty well,” Ronolo said.
Moanalua then went on a 12-2 run to start the fourth quarter, getting a 3 from Kauweloa, a sophomore, along with two drives to the bucket by Rosa-Lasco.
The Bulldogs got a mid-range jumper from Samantha Ono to cut the lead to 48-34, but Rosa-Lasco hustled for follow shot, then hit another layup in traffic. After Zschar Cadiena scored her first layup of the game, Moanalua had a 20-point lead and coasted to victory in the final 3 minutes.
“We didn’t start off too good. Our schedule was tough, but what’s good about that is we have that snowball effect going,” Ronolo said. “Hopefully, we get that momentum and we’re peaking into the playoffs. We’re picking up our offense, they know they’re going to be open.”
Kaimuki (10-8, 4-3) 7 10 13 8 — 38
Moanalua (7-8, 4-3) 12 20 4 26 — 62
Kaimuki: Jasmine Chipen-Ii 7, Samantha Ono 2, Misha Remigio 3, Kaelyn Espinda 20, Nani Pfeiffer-Kekoa 4, Ivy Ruben 2, Sanoe Nisa 0.
Moanalua: Zschar Cadiena 6, Kylie Casinas 9, Breanne Louis-Merry 4, Sierra Kauweloa 13, Kailee Eulitt 0, Dionna Woodson 4, Raven Rosa-Lasco 18, Mercedes Smith 6, Princess Leota 2.
3-point goals—Kaimuki 5 (Espinda 4, Chipen-Ii), Moanalua 2 (Casinas, Kauweloa).