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‘Iolani holds off Kamehameha in OT, 39-38, for fifth straight state title

By Wes Nakama

The “Drive for Five” required an unexpected extra lap, but the ‘Iolani went the distance and held off stubborn Kamehameha in overtime, 39-38, Friday night for its fifth straight Heidi & Cook/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championship.

A tense and vocal crowd of 1,860 at Blaisdell Arena watched ‘Iolani take leads of 8-0 in the first period, 21-6 in the second and 25-14 early in the fourth, only to see the Warriors rally back and tie it at 36-36 on Rylee Paranada’s 3-pointer from the right corner with 55 seconds remaining. Mia Frye drained a 3-pointer just 18 seconds into overtime, and Alemauali’i Fonoti’s layup closed it to 39-38 with 48 ticks remaining.

The Raiders then left the door open by missing four straight free throws, giving Kamehameha one last possession with eight seconds left. After ‘Iolani used its two fouls to give, the Warriors inbounded with 2.9 showing on the clock and got off a running hook shot down the right side of the lane, but it fell short as time expired.

“I was like, ‘Thank God!’ ” said Raiders senior center Mele Sake, who scored seven points, grabbed nine rebounds and made two blocks. “It feels special, really having to step up this year because we lost our four seniors last year and taking care of business every time we stepped on the court. And really sticking together through the crucial moments.”

Photo: Lori McKeown

‘Iolani finished the season 23-2, with the only two losses coming to nationally ranked Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) and California power Clovis West (Fresno). Kamehameha ended up 17-8, with six of the losses coming to ILH rival ‘Iolani. 

“We lost to them five times (in the ILH), and this was the one we really wanted, we knew this was the one that really mattered in the end,” said Kamehameha coach Pua Straight. “I think (the Warriors) they were hungry for it, especially once they got loose. They went after balls, they were on the ground … so I’m definitely proud of the effort. I think in the second half, they left it all out on the court, and that’s all we can ask.”

The game actually started slowly for both teams, with the first field goal coming on Frye’s layup midway through the first period to make it 4-0. Kamehameha’s first basket did not come until Paranada’s jumper almost seven minutes in, with ‘Iolani up 10-2. Two minutes into the second period, Frye hit a floater to ignite an 11-0 run that pushed the lead to 21-6 after Callie Pieper swished a baseline shot with three minutes remaining.

The Warriors closed out the half with an 8-2 run to cut it to 23-14, but Sake’s putback a minute into the third period made it 25-14. Paranada then made a free throw to start an 8-0 run capped by Nihoa Dunn’s layup to close it to 25-22 one minute into the fourth period. In the meantime, Sake picked up her fourth foul with 5:18 left and was sent to the bench. 

“When she went out, it hurt us because we really couldn’t defend their two 6-footers (Dunn and Fonoti),” Raiders coach Dean Young said. 

Kamehameha immediately took advantage, with Mikylah Labanon driving down the middle of the lane for an uncontested layup, and then Dunn scoring on a putback to stunningly put the Warriors ahead, 29-28, with 4:14 remaining. But Sake returned and ‘Iolani quickly took the lead back, and freshman guard Justice Kekauoha’s floater put the Raiders ahead, 36-33, with 1:15 left.

Paranada then hit her game-tying 3-pointer, which eventually forced overtime. That gave both teams an extra four minutes, which Sake had to navigate carefully with four fouls.

“I just told myself not to swing my arms, because that’s what they were calling,” said Sake, who was named to the All-Tournament Team. “I was emphasizing that to myself, because I know that my team needed me to play defense.”

Dunn, who also was named to the All-Tournament Team, finished with a game-high 15 points and 10 rebounds. Frye, who was named Most Outstanding Player, ended up with 13 points, two assists and two steals.

Photo: Lori McKeown

‘Iolani’s record string of state titles started in 2019 and was interrupted only by the COVID-19 season of 2021, when no state tournament was held. 

“That’s incredible, it’s such a testament to the girls who have come through this program,” Young said. “This (group) has a personality, there’s so much fun and joy when they’re together. We see it every day in practice. I really, really wanted this team to win it, because they’re so close. I would have been absolutely heartbroken if they didn’t get it, because I know how close they are.”

Photos: Lori McKeown

Photos: Jonathan Salvador

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