By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
In a pressure situation with a state championship hanging in the balance, talent helps but it’s often a player’s or team’s experience that can make the difference in who claims the coveted title.
That became painfully obvious for state D-II champion Kamehameha-Hawaii and runner-up Honokaa and state D-I runner-up Konawaena on Friday night at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association girls basketball championships at Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu.
Kamehameha fought past hustling Honokaa 55-46 to clinch its second straight crown under head coach Garrett Arima and his staff; and the private school’s fourth state title in the nine-year history of state D-II basketball. Earlier, head coaches Kimo Miller (2005) and Kalani Silva (2007) led their Big Island Warriors to state championships.
But Kamehameha-Hawaii had to dig deep to knock off Honokaa in Friday’s D-II final. The Dragons, behind the play of junior Hunter Liftee, led 22-16 at the intermission and had contained dangerous Warrior junior Casey Poe (8 points) and blanketed high-scoring sophomore Riana Arima (4 points).
However, Kamehamehe came out strong in the third period, led by the multitalented 5-foot-11 Poe and a turnover-gobbling three-quarter court press, to go on a 14-0 run and take control. The Warriors outscored the Dragons 20-6 in the period and held a 36-28 advantage heading into the final period.
In the fourth quarter, Kamehameha-Hawaii outpointed Honokaa 19-18 to repeat as state D-II champion.
But it was the Warriors’ state tournament experience, led by Poe — in her third straight state D-II final, that proved to be the difference. She dominated the second half, scoring 20 of her game-high 28 points to lead the victory march. She hit 7 of 17 field goals and 14 of 16 free throws — 12 of 14 in the final half — to almost will Kamehameha-Hawaii to the title.
For Poe and teammates Arima, senior Namele Naipo-Arsiga and junior Chyann “Maka” Gabriel, it was their second straight state title and their experience of playing in the D-II championship game certainly helped them handle the pressure. Naipo-Arsiga and Gabriel each added 10 points while Arima chipped in with seven.
Poe, who was named the state D-II tournament’s most outstanding player, also contributed seven rebounds, three steals and four blocked shots to go along with strong defense and ballhandling as the Warriors beat the Dragons for the second time in a week in a championship game. In the Big Island Interscholastic Federation D-II title game, Poe hit a late follow-up shot to lift the Warriors to a heart-thumping 49-48 win over the gutsy Dragons in Kealakehe.
After rallying past Honokaa in the state D-II title game, Poe noted the difference between the two teams.
“We’ve been here before and we knew what to expect,” she said. “In the second half, we didn’t want to make mistakes and still play with all of our heart.”
Honokaa’s lack of experience at states proved to be its biggest hurdle in knowing how to get it done under the intense pressure. In the second half, the Dragons struggled making shots and handling the ball against Kamehameha aggressive defense. But with a young squad, head coach James Lukzen and his team could return to the Big Dance next year.
Liftee, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds Friday, is just one of the talented Dragons returning and with Kamehameha-moving up to D-I next year, Honokaa should be the team to beat in the BIIF and projected as a state title contender.
In the state D-I championship game, Kamehameha-Kapalama (19-0) rallied past two-time defending state champion Konawaena 45-39 in overtime. The Bobbie Awa-coached Wildcats (18-2) played outstanding team basketball in the first half, carrying a 22-9 lead into the intermission.
Konawaena then outscored the Warriors 13-9 in the third period and took a 35-18 lead into the fourth quarter. But as the game became more physical and the three Oahu officials let it go, Kamehameha-Kapalama outscored the young Wildcats 19-2 in the final eight minutes to force overtime. Then in the extra session, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu champions, under head coach Darold Imanaka, outpointed the BIIF champions 8-2 to pocket the coveted crown.
Junior guard Tiare Kanoa led the Warriors with 16 points and Lilia Maio had 14 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman Chanelle Molina led Konawaena with 16 points and senior Courtney Kaupu had 11. Kanoa, a talented underclassman with a deadly shot, was named the D-I tournament’s most outstanding player.
The Wildcats’ lack of big-game experience — Awa started three seniors and two freshmen — and a “closer” in the clutch showed up in the fourth period when the physical Warriors took over and Konawaena had eight turnovers. The fact that Kamehameha-Kapalama had a much deeper bench and got some friendly officiating in the fourth quarter also hurt the Big Island squad.
In the fourth period, the Warriors shot 16 free throws and made 14 while Konawaena did not go to the line one time. The Wildcats also were whistled for eight fouls and Kamehameha-Kapalama three — but while making their impressive run during the first 6:44 of the fourth quarter, the Warriors were not whistled once for a foul.
Still, with more composure and effective offensive play by the Wildcats, they should have been able to weather the Kamehameha-Kapalama storm in the fourth period. But give the Warriors credit — they never quit and took advantage of everything they got in their incredible fourth quarter and then won the state title in OT.
“Things just didn’t go our way. We couldn’t get calls, and we got beat off the glass — that’s just the way it goes,” Awa said. “We wanted to take back momentum, but we couldn’t get stops. We had opportunities and missed some real easy layups. We rely a lot on our young girls, and this is a good learning experience for them.”
“Experience” — there’s that important word. It’s something that helped Kamehameha-Hawaii get over the hump and win a state title on Friday, and it’s something that hopefully the young Konawaena and Honokaa teams can pocket and use next year if they can get back to the state championships to battle again for the coveted D-I and II trophies, respectively.
BIIF runner-up Hilo, under head coach Ben Pana, defeated Iolani 53-49 on Friday to claim third place in the state D-I tournament. The young Vikings, with a starting lineup of a junior, a sophomore and three freshmen, went 3-1 and impressed a lot of other coaches and fans with their athleticism and team play.
Aliyah Pana, a versatile junior and oldest daughter of Ben Pana, had a breakout tournament, averaging 20.5 points per game, including 24 agains Iolani. Her sister, freshman point guard Alexis Pana, also showcased her basketball skills and with a promising nucleus returning, the Vikings might be the D-I team to beat next year. …
For the first time in the history of the state D-I and II tournaments, four BIIF teams were among the final eight teams to reach the semifinals. And three were left standing to play for the title.
Impressive stuff, ladies, and the performance has left Big Island basketball fans anxiously awaiting next year.
Email Tribune-Herald sports editor Bill O’Rear at firstname.lastname@example.org