By KYLE GALDEIRA
Stephens Media Hawaii
HONOLULU — While it took a while for Honokaa coach Daphne Honma to get her message of “move the ball and rotate” across, her players eventually responded by running their offense through its collection of dominant bigs down low.
The top-seeded Dragons employed stifling defense Thursday and rolled to a wire-to-wire 61-49 victory in the quarterfinal round of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II basketball tournament.
While the final margin ended up relatively close, the Falcons could not buy a bucket, and finished with just 13 converted field goals in 55 attempts (23.6 percent). Conversely, Honokaa shot 25 of 41 (61 percent), but committed 30 turnovers in the rugged win.
Senior center Hunter Liftee led the way for the Dragons with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds, while junior forward Eliyah Fernandez also chipped in a double-double with 18 points and 13 boards. Senior Chancis Fernandez managed eight points, but also contributed a game-high six assists and pulled down five rebounds to cap the victory.
“Really? Twenty points is the most for me this season,” said a surprised Liftee. “My coaches told us to ‘Give it to the bigs’ because (Kalani) is small. That’s how I scored most of my points.”
With the win, Honokaa advances to face Molokai —which moved on thanks to a gritty 41-35 victory over Kapaa in an its quarterfinal— today in a 5 p.m. semifinal at Kaimuki. The defensive-minded Farmers (12-1) advanced despite converting just eight of 39 field-goal attempts, and survived by sinking 25 of 44 free throws compared to Kapaa’s nine conversions from the charity stripe.
Honokaa (12-2), the reigning Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion, is pursuing the program’s first state title, which is currently held by two-time defending champion Kamehameha-Hawaii. The Warriors had won the previous six BIIF titles, but were upended by the Dragons in the league title game.
Kalani (7-8) of the Oahu Interscholastic Association received a team-leading 18 points from senior guard Carly Kakuda.
The Dragons started the game on an 8-0 run, and despite a dominant defensive performance that held Kalani without a field goal for nearly seven minutes of the first period, the white-and-green clad squad could only establish a 14-6 first-quarter advantage. Turnovers doomed Honokaa, as the game’s designated home team committed 10 turnovers in the opening period, and 19 of them in the first half.
“We were fired up and excited to play, and just played a little crazy,” Honma said. “It was definitely better late than never once we settled down and got to business. We ended up doing OK.”
The Dragons overcame the sluggish start and used a 15-3 run midway through the second quarter to establish breathing room with a 25-11 advantage. The run was sparked by Liftee, who accounted for nine of Honokaa‘s points during the streak, and dropped in 11 first-half points to lead all players.
Kalani ended the first frame with three made free throws to narrow the intermission deficit to 25-14, but the Falcons struggled miserably on offense to the tune of 3-of-23 made field goals and six free throws in 14 attempts throughout the first half.
Le Jardin 51, Kohala 25: The Cowgirls (7-8), the BIIF’s third-place team, lost in consolation play at Kalani, ending their season.
Statistics were not available at press time.