Behind 22 points from Mikaela Limper, the Mililani Trojans advanced to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association semifinals with 54-51 upset win over the Konawaena Wildcats Saturday night at Kealakehe High School.
Konawaena held the lead for the majority of the game, but the Trojans stuck to their game plan of production from behind the 3-point line and tossing the ball down to the post, to escape with a win.
“Our girls persevered. We got in a hole but were able to crawl out,” Mililani head coach Patrick Basilio said. “They stuck to the plan, stayed the course and worked our offense. Everyone really stepped up when we needed it. The ball bounced our way at the end.”
Limper was 3-of-9 from beyond the arc and did not find her stroke until the second half.
“I think she is finding more confidence in her shot again, and her being hot is opening up space for the bigs down low,” Basilio said. “For the first half of the season, the outside game was working really well, but lately we had lost it a little bit. We were hoping to get it back in the state championship.”
Konawaena is a perennial contender at the state level and has been the best girls basketball program in Hawaii for the last decade. Since 2004, the Wildcats have won five state titles in girls basketball and have played in eight championship games.
“We needed to take care of business tonight and we didn’t,” Konawaena head coach Bobbie Awa said. “They had a big girl down low that we couldn’t stop and that opened it up for their shooters. We knew they had a good shooter, but could not get out to guard her because we were so concerned about the post.”
Chanelle Molina scored 27 points for Konawaena in the loss. The sophomore star was keyed on by the Trojans’ defense and played the entire second half with four fouls — her fourth came with less than a second remaining in the second quarter.
“Obviously you have to shut down Chanelle when you play Konawaena. Well, you have to try to shut her down. You can really only slow her down,” Basilio said. “We were fortunate she got into foul trouble and had to sit for a while. That is the best defense you can play against her.”
The only other Wildcat in double figures was Mercedes “Ihi” Victor, who contributed 11 points and hit all three of her attempts from the 3-point line.
“They did a good job changing up their defense on us the last few possessions,” Awa said. “We also need more threats on the court. It hurt us when Chanelle had to sit.”
It took a while for the Trojans to get going, likely caused by fatigue from a busy weekend.
This season was the first time the HHSAA decided to use the regional format — similar to the one used by the NCAA. The Lahaina Civic Center and Kealakehe gymnasium are the two neutral neighbor island venues being used in this year’s tournament.
The Trojans played less than 24 hours before taking the court, defeating Radford 54-39 Friday on Oahu. The Wildcats had an entire week to rest and prepare since winning the BIIF championship against Hilo Feb. 1
“You could see the sluggish pace from us in the first half. Maybe it was jet lag from Oahu to the Big Island,” Basilio said. “It’s been crazy. I really appreciate the regional format, but I think we need at least a day buffer to set it off. Having to settle the girls in before the game was huge.”
The Trojans finally settled in a minute into the fourth quarter, after taking the first lead of the second half on free throws from senior center Sarah Liva. Liva finished the game with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
The noise from the anxious crowd grew as the seconds ticked off the clock.
With a minute left, Jamie Yuki converted on a tough layup to extend the Trojans lead to four.
With 27 seconds remaining, the Wildcats needed a big play. Victor got an open look and drained her third 3-pointer of the game to bring the Wildcats within one.
While Molina was sidelined with foul trouble, the Wildcats were faced with a rare type of foul trouble on the court. Konawaena was four fouls away from being in the penalty, which meant that the Trojans could inbound the ball and scramble away from pressure to take off precious time.
The Trojans played the cat and mouse game with the Wildcats for several possessions before looking like they would go to the line. The Wildcats played lockdown coverage on the inbound, causing a held ball with the possession arrow favoring the Wildcats.
The setup was fit for a movie. With nine seconds remaining, the entire gym knew who the ball was going to, but the Wildcats found a way to get the ball into Molina’s hands.
Molina sized up her defender but lost her dribble and fell to the ground trying to recover the loose ball.
The Wildcats fouled with 0.8 seconds left, but the game was no longer the primary focus. In the chaos of the final play, Molina had knocked her head on the ground, so hard it could be heard through the crowd noise. She lie motionless on the Kealakehe gymnasium floor as the raucous crowd of nearly 500 fell silent.
Molina made it off the court under her own power, but was later taken to the hospital in an ambulance, fitted with a neck brace.
The Wildcats’ season is over, but they still have a bright future to look forward to. Zoe Acdal and Sylessia Jose are the only seniors on Konawaena’s roster.
Mililani advances to play Punahou Friday at McKinley High School. The Buffanblu defeated King Kekaulike 62-39 earlier Friday.
“We have not played them this year but I have watched some of their games,” Basilio said. “I know their defensive pressure is pretty relentless.”
Mililani 18 5 19 12 — 54
Konawaena 17 13 14 7 — 51