By: Wes Nakama
Campbell and Kahuku collided in the football state semifinals just three months ago, but an even better battle between the powerhouse schools took place on the basketball court at McKinley on Wednesday night.
No. 2 seed and OIA champion Campbell held off the unseeded Red Raiders, 43-40, in pulsating hoops action to advance to Thursday’s Heide & Cook/HHSAA semifinal matchup against unseeded ILH runner-up Maryknoll at Moanalua. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m., followed by the other semifinal between top seed and defending champ Saint Louis versus unseeded Moanalua.
Campbell (24-5) will be making only its fourth final four appearance in its 61-year school history and first since 2017. The Sabers, who captured their first league title on Feb. 1, have never reached the state championship game.
“I’m just glad we got the win,” Campbell coach Wyatt Tau said Wednesday night. “After winning the OIA championship for the first time … even me, I’m still on a high. But why not try to win a state championship now? We’re right here.”
They are, but only after a stiff challenge from Kahuku, which featured some key players from the Red Raiders’ 32-7 win over the Sabers in the football state semifinals.
After Mizah Carreira’s layup put Campbell up, 41-36, with 3:11 remaining, Kahuku later closed it to 42-40 on a pair of free throws by freshman point guard Mystique Akina-Watson with 45.9 seconds left. The Red Raiders regained possession after Campbell missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but could not convert at the other end and were assessed a foul on the ensuing rebound.
That sent 6-foot-6 Sabers center Mason Muaau to the free throw line, where he made the first attempt but missed the second, putting Campbell up, 43-40 with 18.9 ticks on the clock. Muaau had only attempted six free throws all season before Wednesday, making one. But he said he felt good after making his two attempts earlier in the period before stepping to the charity stripe at game’s end.
“I was totally confident, because I practice on that night and day,” said Muaau, a senior who signed a National Letter of Intent in December to play tight end for Colorado State.
After he missed the second attempt, Kahuku secured the rebound and quickly advanced the ball upcourt, eventually swinging it to the left corner for Kahler Vendiola, the Red Raiders’ top 3-point threat. He launched a seemingly open attempt from beyond the arc with 10 seconds remaining, only to watch the Muaau swoop in from the baseline and soar for the block, and then grab the rebound and heave a long outlet downcourt so the Sabers could run out the clock.
“(Earlier) I almost had (the block), so I was like, ‘This time, I’m gonna get it, ‘ ” Muaau said. “I got it, and I was all happy.”
There was joy, but also a sense of big relief as Kahuku (19-5) gave Campbell all it could handle from the outset.
The Red Raiders jumped out to an 11-5 lead in the first six minutes, before the Sabers responded with a 10-1 run capped by Rylan Sotelo’s layup to put Campbell in front, 15-12, three minutes into the second period. After Kahuku briefly took the lead back at 16-15, the Sabers answered with seven straight points to go up, 22-16, at the three-minute mark.
But the Red Raiders closed it to 22-19 by halftime, then scored the first two baskets of the third period to lead, 23-22, after Kache Kaio’s fast break layup one minute in.
Campbell again responded with a 7-0 run to make it 29-23, but then Brock Fonoimoana tied it at 29-29 after one of his game-high four steals and a free throw, and the Sabers took a slim 34-31 lead into the fourth.
Campbell opened the final quarter with Mizah Carreira’s 3-pointer and two free throws by Muaau for its biggest lead at 39-31, but then Akina-Watson scored nine straight points for Kahuku to close it to 42-40.
“Hat’s off to Kahuku,” Tau said. “Like I told our boys, ‘Win by one or win by 20 — we just gotta win.’ “
Red Raiders coach Brandyn Akana said he knew his team matched up well with the Sabers, having split their two preseason meetings.
“I think, down the stretch we just had too many mistakes,” Akana said. “But we were right there, so that’s all I can ask for, is for us to have a chance at the end. We needed a 3, so that’s who we wanted (Vendiola) to shoot. I thought he could have pump-faked and go into him, get three free throws, but he decided to let it go. But good heads-up, defensive play by the big man, so that was smart.”
Muaau said the tough battle was expected, and that Campbell is ready for another one Thursday.
“We knew it was going to be a game like this,” Muaau said. “Kahuku is a really good team. I feel like we’re in the history books, it’s a big thing for all of us, not just (the players) but for the coaches and the community.”
Photos: Jonathan Salvador
Mahalo to City Mill for sponsoring our high school basketball photo gallery and for supporting Hawaii sports.