KEALAKEKUA — History has not been kind to Moanalua. In its last five trips to the HHSAA boys basketball state tournament, the team had failed to get out the first round.
However, that all changed Monday night as the Menehune defeated a cold-shooting Konawaena squad 62-52 in the first round of Division I play.
“This was a big deal for us and a huge win,” said Moanalua head coach Brian Mello. “It feels like I have been carrying a bag of rocks on my back so I am glad to get rid of it.”
The Menehune (8-6) were led to victory by the late heroics of Saige Pulu. Pulu has come up clutch in big game situations all season long. He most recently hit the the game-tying and subsequent go-ahead shot in the game that sent Moanalua to the state tournament.
Playing in Kealakekua, Pulu managed to put the dagger in any hopes of a fourth quarter Konawaena comeback by hitting three straight shots, including back-to-back three-pointers to put his team up by 13 with roughly four minutes to play. The Wildcats would never get closer than nine points.
Pulu finished with a team high 13 points, followed by Austin Dyer and Blayze Simon with 12 each.
“He hit those two 3-pointers and they were absolutely beautiful,” Mello said. “He really stepped up for us tonight.”
At the start of the game, it was apparent that Moanalua had the height advantage. At 6-foot-5, DiAeris McRaven stood at least four inches taller than any Wildcat player on the floor.
McRaven did damage under the basket on both sides of the floor, picking up a game-high 10 rebounds.
“He did a good job on the boards and battled hard around the basket against a team that was strong and physical,” Mello said. “We were able to get the rebounds we needed to get.”
Konawaena (10-6) struggled shooting from the outside and from the line, something that has plagued the Wildcats all season. Konawaena was 4-of-15 from three-point range and 6-of-13 from the free throw line. Foul shooting was a difference maker, with Moanalua connecting on 21 of 25 attempts.
“We were just ice cold from the line and from the outside,” Konawaena head coach Donny Awa said. “It seems like we did not have a good shooting night all season. We played well defensively, but outside of Austin (Ewing), we struggled to find any offense.”
Ewing, no stranger to intense, state playoff games, netted a game-high 16 points. Hauoli Akau hit a a few shots from beyond the arc late in the game to finish with 14. Bronson Rivera added 11.
The loss was not how Awa wanted to see the season end, especially for his seven seniors.
“I thought we could have done better. I felt like we underachieved a little bit this year,” Awa said. “I think this is a team that could have gone one or two games into the state tournament.”
Next up for the Menehune is No. 2 seed and OIA champion Kalaheo.
“They are playing really well right now but so are we,” Mello said. “We are looking forward to it, but right now we are happy to finally get out of the first round.”