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Moanalua girls turn back Kaiser, 61-50, to clinch top OIA East seed

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

By: Wes Nakama

Ditching the “drama” and simply taking care of business, Moanalua turned back visiting Kaiser, 61-50, Tuesday night to clinch the No. 1 seed for the Eastern Division in next week’s OIA girls basketball tournament.

A crowd of about 250 watched Akaecia Mateo score 18 points with five rebounds and six steals and Shailoh Li’ili’i add 16 points with seven boards and six blocks as Na Menehune improved to 13-4 overall and 10-0 in the East, with their regular season finale scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Roosevelt (5-5 East). Alexus Ma’ae scored 18 points and Tendee Kahunahana added 14 points for the Cougars, who fell to 9-3 and 8-1.

“We lost to (Kaiser) here on our Senior Night last year by one point, and the girls kind of took that personally,” Moanalua coach Kirk Ronolo said. “They wanted to win (tonight) and they worked hard for this one. It’s very big.”

The game started tight as expected and was tied at 9-9 after the first eight-plus minutes, but then Mateo converted a three-point play to spark a stunning 17-0 run capped by Braylee Riturban’s two free throws that made it 26-7 with 3:32 remaining in the second period. Li’ili’i later ended the half with a putback to give Na Menehune a 34-15 lead at the break.

Photo: Lori McKeown

“Our rotation on defense wasn’t the greatest, we kind of lost where our man was,” said Cougars coach Noah Keolanui. “We weren’t getting out on shooters and blocking out.”

In addition, Ma’ae picked up two fouls in the first half and had to spend time on the bench.

“Anytime we have our key players on the bench, it’s tough,” Keolanui said.

Ma’ae returned to start the second half and lef Kaiser to a 10-4 run at the outset, capped by Maylee Moe’s layup to cut it to 38-25 with 4:37 left in the third, but Moanalua answered with a 9-3 surge culminating in Li’ili’i swishing a 10-foot jumper from the right baseline to push the lead back to 47-28 with 32.6 seconds remaining.

Kaiser used an 11-4 run capped by Moe’s 3-pointer from the left wing to close it to 57-48 with 1:18 on the clock, but Na Menehune converted four of six free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.

“Really what we did is do what we perfected in practice,” said Li’ili’i, a sophomore post. “Today felt really comfortable, because we usually don’t play like that. But this year we had a little talk or a meeting, and we put all of our differences aside, because we had a little drama. But we decided to play basketball today.”

Mahalo to City Mill for sponsoring our high school basketball photo gallery and for supporting local sports in Hawaii.

Photos: Lori McKeown