Kahuku dethrones Kalani for OIA D1 championship
The Red Raiders embrace each other after holding off Kalani to win the OIA D1 championship. CJ Caraang | SL
ALIAMANU — In a showdown that pitted the best teams from the East Division, No. 5 Kahuku took down reigning champ Kalani, 63-59 to win its first Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I title since 2005 at Radford's Jim Alegre Gymnasium Thursday. The Red Raiders (14-0) completed an undefeated run through OIA play with the win while ending the sixth-ranked Falcons' eight-game winning streak. Latoya Wily won an OIA title as a player in 2004 and ended the 13-year drought as a coach for her alma mater. "It feels amazing," Wily said. "It's been 13 years since we had a title. As a player I thought it was an awesome feeling. But as a coach it's so rewarding to see their hard work paid off. They deserved it and earned it. It's nice to see them get rewarded for that hard work."
Leiah Naeata, who scored 22 in first meeting against Kalani back on Dec. 18, scored a game-high 33 points and shot 13 of 18 from the free throw line before fouling out with 1:10 left in the fourth quarter. "I knew I had to take advantage of my size so I took it to the basket and I focused on finishing with contact and eventually it came out. My teammates helped getting me open with their passing," Naeata said. "We lost out last season and it motivated her this year. Every single game, she does that for us. As long as she stays focused and tries to attack and tries to score, we should be good," Wily said of Naeata, who blossomed into a go-to scorer. Naeata could only cheer and watch from the bench as her teammates finished out the final minute by hitting clutch free throws or grabbing crucial rebounds. "I thought they did amazing," Naeata said. "They ended up finishing that game. I'm so proud of them, yes it was hard for me to sit on the bench, but I cheered with pride and they got it."
Kalani trailed by 10 heading into the fourth quarter until Kamakawiwoole erupted for 10 of her 21 points in the period and cut the deficit down all the way to one, 60-59 with a 3-pointer from the left wing with 45.5 seconds remaining in the game. "We had to keep calling timeouts to tell them to stay disciplined, keep your head. They did what they had to do. They (Kalani) is an awesome team. We had to pause and refocus and keep reminding them that we're up and to take care of the ball," Wily said. Meleane Tonga split a pair of free throws with 27.3 seconds left to put the Red Raiders up two, 61-59, but Kamakawiwoole missed the 3-pointer from the left wing and Serina Tuisavura sealed the game by hitting both foul shots with 11.4 seconds left on the clock. "We talk about having faith in each other. When Leiah fouled out, it was next girl up and she gave them the 'Look up, lift up' talk. When she went out, we got this no matter what. Everyone stepped up no matter what," Wily said.
The game was tied at 13 after the first quarter and Kahuku created a cushion as Naeata scored eight of the team's 17 points in the second quarter. The Red Raiders got a big performance from Maya Claytor, who added 14 points off the bench and made two of her three 3-pointers in the first half. "They both set the tone and everybody played their role. It takes every single player," Wily said. Naeata dished out five assists for the game and as Kalani players would converge on her drives, she would dish it to open players for good looks. "I like dishing it to my teammates. I can count on them for making it and overall it was a team game. We believed in each other," Naeata said. "Getting her ready last season, she had no choice but to take the reigns as a point guard and she played all season her freshman year. She definitely grew and her experience transferred over to this season," Wily said. Kalena Halunajan was the driving force on offense literally for Kalani as she scored 15 points by halftime all on layups and finished with 19 points. The Red Raiders led by six at halftime, 30-24. The Falcons got within four twice and then two, 34-32, after Alayna Akiona sank her first 3-pointer of the game, but it was Naeata who had a steal and layup to spark an 11-2 run to put the Red Raiders up 10, 45-35 and led 47-37 going into the fourth quarter. Kamakawiwoole's 3-point play brought Kalani within seven, but Naeata went 2 for 4 from the free throw line and scored a layup to put Kahuku up 11, 53-42. Shelby McDaniel, who was hurt and fell over a Kahuku player as she was trying to contest a shot in the third quarter, hit a jumper and Kamakawiwoole and Akiona each combined for four points from the charity stripe as Kalani cut it down to three, 55-52 with 2:19 left. Naeata put the Red Raiders back up five, 57-52, but Akiona hit her second 3-pointer of the game. Naeata fouled out at the 1:10 mark after fouling McDaniel who split the free throws and trailed, 57-56. Kahuku won the first matchup, 51-48, back on Dec. 18. Both teams clinch spots in the HHSAA/Snapple Division I Girls Basketball State Championships starting on Feb. 4. "We are going to go as far as we can," Wily said. "Our goal was to get the OIA this season, our next goal is to shoot for states. We're going to keep pushing to accomplish those goals."