KEALAKEKUA — By 9 p.m., cheers, laughs and lei filled Ellison Onizuka Gymnasium, as a hefty weeknight crowd celebrated Konawaena’s trio of star senior starters.
In celebratory “final” shots, Cherilyn Molina swished a 3-pointer to get the crowd on their feet, Mikayla Tablit drove to the hoop and rolled in a layup in a short 2-on-2 game with her little sister against her parents, and Kawena Kaohimaunu nailed a no-doubt deep ball from the top of the key.
The senior night scene was a stark contrast from just minutes earlier, when the tension could have been cut with a knife as the Wildcats battled in their closest BIIF contest in quite some time.
Despite scoring just 11 points in an ice-cold second half, the three-time defending state champs squeaked past an upset-minded Waiakea squad 38-35 on Wednesday night.
Molina (11 points), Tablit (9 points) and Kaohimaunu (5 points) — a trio that Tablit dubbed the “three stooges” in her speech to the crowd — combined for 25 points, helping keep the program’s 111-game BIIF winning streak intact.
More importantly, the victory gives Konawaena the leg up on the top seed for the BIIF playoffs later this month.
“The girls chose to have their senior night tonight. It shows how competitive they are,” Konawaena co-head coach Dawnyelle Awa said. Senior night is usually held on the last home game of the regular season, which for the Wildcats is Jan. 17 against Kealakehe. “They wanted to have the opportunity to have a good game in front of a nice crowd and they showed out for their senior night, which is awesome.”
The Warriors lost to Konawaena 57-38 in the preseason, but the close game didn’t come out of the blue. Waiakea has come the close to ending the Wildcats’ vaunted streak, also pushing them to the brink in a 51-46 game last season. If the Warriors have their way, they’ll get another shot when the postseason rolls around.
Freshman Jazelle Dorser notched a game-high 12 points for Waiakea, while sophomore Keeli-Jade Smith netted 11, including all five of the Warriors points in the fourth quarter.
“They are a really good team, and young, which is kind of scary for us,” Awa said. “It was a real competitive game for us, especially in the BIIF. We don’t always have the toughest games all the time.”
That might be an understatement. Coming into the game, Konawaena hadn’t played a close contest in nearly a month, outscoring its last five BIIF opponents by an average of 60.6 points.
“It can be tough, but the girls do a good job staying sharp,” Awa said. “They play against the boys sometimes and find a way.”
Konawaena seemed in control with a 27-18 halftime margin, but things got very interesting early in the second half. After allowing Waiakea just five points in the second quarter, the Warriors went on a quick run to open the half, pulling within a point.
“We were settling for outside shots and they just weren’t hitting,” Awa said. “The girls had to be more patient.”
Waiakea grabbed its first lead since the opening basket at the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter, but Konawaena bounced back, hanging on to a one-point advantage for most of the fourth quarter.
With the paper-thin edge, Konawaena moved the ball around the perimeter as the clock ticked away, trying to avoid Waiakea’s trap attempts. But Zaelynn Lui-Cabinatan had other ideas, as she jumped in a lane and picked off a pass. She sprinted the other way toward a seemingly open hoop, but had Molina close behind. The Washington State-bound guard was able to contest the try that went over the rim. With no whistle, Molina sprawled and gathered in the rebound on the ground, quickly calling a timeout with 19.7 seconds left.
After Kaohimaunu hit a pair of clutch free throws to extend the lead to three, Waiakea kept hope alive with fouls in the final seconds. The Warriors got exactly what they needed when Konawaena’s shooters missed the front ends of 1-and-1s. However, Tanniya Uchida (9 points) and Tablit came up with huge offensive rebounds on the misses, helping run out the final seconds.
Waiakea 13 5 12 5 — 35
Konawaena 17 10 4 7 — 38