By JOE FERRARO
KEALAKEKUA — The way Chanelle Molina sees it, Konawaena assistant coach Jessica Hanato wasn’t giving the team a rah-rah speech.
With the Wildcats trailing Punahou 24-20 after three quarters on Thursday at Onizuka Gymnasium, Hanato spoke boldly in a team huddle before starting the fourth quarter.
“We’re going to win this game,’’ she said.
Hanato, Molina said, truly believed that, and the Wildcats responded by backing up her words.
Molina scored a game-high 14 points, delivering a three-point play with 2:01 remaining in the fourth quarter that gave the Wildcats the lead for good as Konawaena rallied for a 38-31 victory on the first day of the team’s round-robin preseason girls basketball tournament.
When asked about Hanato’s prediction, Molina said she and the rest of the players believed the assistant coach because much of Hanato’s instruction led to positive results in the past.
“We were focused,’’ Molina said of the atmosphere in the team huddle before the start of the fourth quarter. “We weren’t goofing off — and we believed.’’
For Konawaena girls basketball coach Bobbie Awa, losing wasn’t an option at Onizuka Gymansium.
“We told them, ‘We don’t lose on this court,’” Awa said. “This is our court.’’
Molina, a 5-foot-6 freshman point guard, made a layup while being fouled and hit a free throw to give Konawaena a 33-31 advantage.
Punahou’s Samantha Alakai then missed a pair of free throws, and a Konawaena parade to the charity stripe followed.
Melissa Simon’s two free throws gave the Wildcats breathing room with 53 seconds remaining, giving Konawaena a 35-31 advantage. Then Courtney Kaupu, who finished with 11 points, made three more free throws in two trips to close out the scoring.
Turner Wong scored six points for Punahou in a game in which both teams struggled to score in half-court sets.
Awa said the Wildcats’ defense made up for any offensive woes in crunch time.
Konawaena, trailing 17-16 at halftime, took its first lead of the second half when Zoe Acdal turned a Buffanblu turnover into a fast-break basket and a 30-29 Konawaena lead with 4:57 remaining.
“(Acdal made) big baskets and played hard defense the whole game,’’ Awa said.
Neither team led by more than four points, creating pressure situations down the stretch. Molina, who showed the ability to take defenders off the dribble and slash to the basket, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It makes me open up my eyes and look at all the options,’’ she said. “It makes me focus.’’
Konawaena played without senior guard Hoku Liftee, who is nursing an abdominal injury and will likely need two weeks to recover before resuming basketball activities.
That left the Wildcats with just eight players, but Awa thought her team handled the adversity well against Punahou.
“They didn’t panic,’’ she said. “They played hard and weren’t intimidated.’’