HONOLULU — Hunter Liftee had the game of her life, but in her best moment at Honokaa, all she wanted to do was pass credit around.
The 5-foot-9 senior center scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Dragons defeated Kamehameha-Hawaii 54-35 in the finale of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II girls basketball state championships Saturday night at Neal Blaisdell Center.
“I’m proud of my teammates’ effort,” she said. “It feels so great to get it in my senior year. It’s the best feeling ever and I’m proud of my teammates. Our game plan was to share the ball and find the open teammate.”
It was a rematch of last year’s state championship. The Warriors won that one, 55-46. Then HPA transfers and sisters Chancis and Eliyah Fernandez were eligible this season, and added valuable depth to Honokaa’s roster.
Chancis added 12 points and Eliyah Fernandez scored five points for the Dragons (14-2), who shot 59 percent (17 of 29) on field goals and outrebounded the Warriors, 32-23, who lost their chance at a state three-peat.
The rematch also exhibited the dominance of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, which has won five of 11 Division II state titles. The league also has five runner-up finishes; Honokaa once and Kamehameha four times.
Casey Poe scored 19 points on 7 of 10 shooting and Riana Arima added seven on 3 of 12 shooting for the Warriors (12-5), who converted 32 percent (13 of 41) from the floor.
Liftee was named the Most Outstanding Player while Chancis Fernandez, Poe and Arima made the All-Tourney team.
“It was ugly but we did the job,” said Honokaa coach Daphne Honma, noting her team’s 23 turnovers to Kamehameha’s 20 giveaways. “But we did what it took. It wasn’t pretty and we had some rough spots, but we defended well enough.
“We were patient for the most part. But on the times we turned over the ball they made us pay. You have to give credit to Kamehameha. The came and battled.”
The Dragons beat the Warriors 54-32 for the BIIF Division II title, stopping Kamehameha’s six-year reign. They played a state style half-court game and put a heavy emphasis on guarding Poe, who scored 18 points, and smothered everyone else.
For three seasons, including this year, at states, Poe has been the heart of her team’s offense. She entered the state championship averaging 21.4 points over nine games in her state career and accounting for 38 percent of the offense.
The state championship was a similar story, but it was more foul filled than the BIIF finale. The Dragons made 20 of 28 free throws; the Warriors were 9 of 23 from the line.
When Honokaa needed someone to step up and score, Liftee got the job done. She was 9 of 12 from the field and buried 6 of 9 free throws. She logged 31 minutes and committed a lone turnover with no assists, except high praise to her fellow Dragons.
“She gives us a good inside presence,” Honma said. “She’s versatile, can move and is athletic, able to go right or left. She can dribble, but that’s not the strength of her game. Shemika Frazier (six points) and Eliyah had a good state tournament. Chancis gave us two really good games.”
Then Honma followed Liftee’s lead, passing credit around. That’s the strength of Liftee’s game, always thinking team first, even on a night when she’s the Most Outstanding Player and Honokaa captured its first state title.
“It was a total team effort. They’re all in for each other,” Honma said.