By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Chanelle Molina, who has an uncanny ability to score and set up others at the right time, always gives Konawaena a puncher's chance with her game-changing skill-set.
The 5-foot-6 sophomore point guard is a big reason the Wildcats beat Hilo 48-45 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation girls basketball game Saturday night at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
Molina scored 17 points and posted four assists, her last to Jasmine Perea, who had the go-ahead score with a layup and free throw with 5.1 seconds remaining. It was the perfect pass, after Molina picked up a bouncing turnover on the other end, dribbled down the court, and gave up the ball at the right time.
"Both teams played really good defense. They pressured us and knew I was really the only ball-handler," Molina said. "That was smart coaching by coach Ben Pana. But our whole team knew they had to step up. Everyone did their part and stepped up.
"I looked up and saw we had 10 seconds. After I got down the court, they double-teamed me and I looked and Jazz was wide open. She not only made the basket with her left hand, but the free throw, too. This gives us big momentum."
Perea, a 5-8 junior and first-time starter, added 14 points for the Wildcats (4-0), who converted 38 percent (17 of 45) from the field, a stat that summed up the difficulty shooting against Hilo's sticky man-to-man defense.
The Vikings threw tough-nosed 5-4 sophomore Sharlei Graham-Bernisto on Molina, who was often double-teamed in half-court sets — the primary pace of the game, not the uptempo transition track race Pana wanted.
In fact, both teams had three layups each. Molina had two and, of course, Perea had the most important one.
"We were looking for a mismatch," Molina said. "When Sharlei was on me, I was looking to post her up and looking for an open shooter. If they double, one person will be open."
But as Molina said, she's the primary ball-handler. When the ball was kicked out, the Wildcats couldn't send back an entry pass to the post. Hilo's man defense caused trouble, but Kona's inexperience (Molina and Ihi Victor are the only returning starters) played a part, too.
The biggest difference was giveaways. Kona had 23 turnovers, including seven in the fourth quarter. Hilo had only eight turnovers, including two in the final period.
"It was so scrambled egg. Our girls were so pumped up they couldn't settle down. We couldn't run our offensive sets in the first half," Kona coach Bobbie Awa said. "In the second half, the girls calmed down and settled down. That layup by Jazz was huge. She can finish on both sides of the basket. If she missed, I would have been, 'Oh, you should have shot with your right hand.' Chanelle made the right decision with the ball."
Despite a furious and hectic finish, it was comforting that Awa maintained her dry sense of humor. That's because any time Molina was forced to pass to a teammate, the Wildcats struggled with ball security. But every time the Vikings tried to run and score a layup in transition, Kona defenders were already at the other end waiting.
At least, Hilo had the next best thing to layups: high-percentage shots close to the basket because of precision interior passing. But the Vikings couldn't buy a shot and made just 31 percent (17 of 55) from the floor.
They were equally inaccurate on free throws, 7 of 18 for 39 percent. The Wildcats were just a hair better, 11 of 27 for 41 percent.
Shalyn Guthier scored 11 points, Aliyah Pana nine, Alexis Pana eight, Cierra Kelii and Cailey Cabalis six each while Graham-Bernisto added five points for Hilo (3-1), which fell hard to Kona 54-30 in the BIIF championship last year.
Big Island talent
Hawai coach Laura Beeman made the trip over to scout Molina, who has been offered a scholarship, and Alexis Pana, who's also a unique package as a 5-9 sophomore point guard with smooth shooting and ball-handling skills. When she was doubled, she rifled accurate darts to open teammates.
Beeman got a good dose of Molina's skill-set in the third quarter. Kona was down 25-24 at halftime, but Molina sparked a 14-0 run that built a 38-25 lead that later disappeared.
Molina turned into a quarterback and fired an accurate pass to Victor, who drained a 3-pointer. On an inbound play beyond halfcourt, Molina outraced her defender, caught a perfect rainbow, and soared in for a layup.
She capped the scoring spurt with a sharp cut to the basket on a backdoor play, banked in a chip shot and completed a three-point play after she was fouled. Molina, who launches the ball from her shoulder, a different but effective stroke, made 5 of 6 free throws.
Hilo counterpunched that run with one of its own. Kelii scored a pair of baskets to sandwich Aliyah Pana's 3-pointer to tie it 38-38 to conclude the third quarter.
Then late in the fourth quarter, the two teams traded turnovers, after Aliyah Pana tied it again 45-45 with 59 seconds left, shortly before her younger sister fouled out.
After Kona's late turnover, the Vikings drove down the court and Aliyah Pana passed to a teammate, who slipped during a 2-on-1 fast-break. Molina picked up the loose ball, and made a memorable final assist.
Kona has collected the last five BIIF titles and now owns a 59-0 record in league play. Although coach Bobbie Awa's program has a winning pedigree, they're not the same old Wildcats.
For one thing, the Wildcats have precious very little depth. They have 10 players on the roster, and for the second straight year no junior varsity team.
Kona powerhouse teams in previous years used to turn the basketball court into a track meet. Hilo raced back in transition defense. But the Wildcats didn't force the issue, ramming their way to the rim to draw fouls or dish-and-drive.
"We don't run as much this year because we don't have the bodies and personnel," Awa said.
Awa noted that when the state switched girls basketball to the winter season, same as the boys, that would eventually chip away at her numbers. For her Kona Stingrays club team, she has just two eighth graders.
During the winter, there's soccer, canoe paddling, swimming and wrestling. Girls who are fast, agile, lanky or muscular may find a more technical fit in those sports, most of which carry large rosters.
What's worse is the Wildcats have two senior starters in Syleesia Jose, a 5-9 forward, who didn't score against Hilo but offers rim protection and rebounding, and 5-2 guard Zoe Acdal, who had two points.
But at least, Molina is only a sophomore and Victor, who had four points and played with a hyper-extended elbow, is also just a sophomore. Victor is a 5-9 forward with athleticism, the same trait as freshmen guards Mahiehie Kaawa Kaakimaka and Celena Molina, the younger sister with limited hoops experience.
Meanwhile, the Vikings are a team built for the long haul. Aliyah Pana is the only senior starter. Chailey Cabalis is a 5-7 junior forward while the rest of the starters are all sophomores: Alexis Pana, Graham-Bernisto and Guthier. They're also got a JV team with 11 players.
"Overall, we played a good game. For some reason, we came out really flat in the third quarter," Hilo coach Ben Pana said. "But we couldn't finish under the basket. We have to go back to practice and keep working on our game. You've got to tip your hat to Kona.
"We made Chanelle work extra hard for her to have a good game. But we gave away too many extra possessions, especially in the first half and we had to work extra hard."
The Vikings filmed the game, and will later pore over the little details. Pana proved to be something of a prophet. He was most concerned about Molina's ability to set up others for easy baskets, and that's the way it went at the end.
In football parlance, Hilo won the turnover battle, but lost the game. The Vikings had only eight turnovers, but the last was untimely. Molina changed the game with her uncanny skill-set.
It's still a long season and Pana knows a rematch is likely around the corner.
"The war is not over yet," he said. "There's still the playoffs."
Hilo 17 8 13 7— 45
Waiakea 67, Kealakehe 18: Kryssie Okinaka scored 14 points and Shaila Apele posted 11 as the Warriors (2-3) cruised to victory on their home floor.
Angelina DeSaguin led the Waveriders (1-4) with five.
Waiakea won the JV game 27-25.
Keal. 4 5 4 5 —18
Wai. 25 17 13 12—67
Honokaa 65, Ka’u 32: Chancis Fernandez poured in 23 points in Pahala and Honokaa got off to a blazing start to stay unbeaten.
Eliyah Fernandez chipped in with 14 points for the Dragons (4-0) — which led 29-6 after the first quarter — and Hunter Liftee had 12.
Denisha Navarro led the Trojans (0-5) with nine points and Bridget Pasion had eight.
Honokaa won the JV game 44-6.
Hon. 29 14 14 8—65
Ka’u 6 9 9 8—32
Kohala 50, Hawaii Prep 38: Sophomore Naai Solomon-Lewis led the way for the host Cowgirls (4-0) with 16 points. Solomon-Lewis also added four rebounds and two assists.
Keaau 64, Laupahoehoe 23: Taylor Pocock tallied 24 points and Jasmine Segobia had 16 as the host Cougars (3-2) grabbed their third straight victory.
For the Seasiders (0-4), Shyla Anderson produced nearly half of her team’s points with 11.
Laup. 8 12 3 0 —23
Keaau 20 12 20 12—64
Kamehameha 71, Pahoa 50: The Warriors (4-1) got double-figuring scoring from Casey Poe (19 points), Rianna Arima (18) and Makamae Gabriel (11) to win in Pahoa.
Randi Berinobis paced the Daggers (0-5) with 16 points.
Kamehameha won in JV 48-35.
Kam 15 21 21 14—71
Pahoa 9 9 19 13 — 50