Molokai boys finish fourth at Hawaii’s state basketball tournament.
By Sean Aronson
It may not have ended with arms raised and a trophy hoisted, but 2009 was a successful season any way you slice it for the Molokai boys basketball team.
“This was a great night for basketball and a greater night for Molokai,” said Head Coach Lee DeRouin following his team’s defeat in the semifinals of the state tournament.
It was the first time Molokai boys finished in the top four since 1988, when teams competed in one big tournament. In 2007 the state tournament was divided into two divisions, with the Farmers playing in the smaller of the two.
Molokai was one of 12 teams selected for the Div II state championships. They earned a first round bye, which means they were automatically into a quarterfinal matchup with Pahoa High School from Hawaii Island. They won that game, setting up a semifinal contest with Castle High School from Kaneohe, Oahu.
After a great comeback in their previous game, Molokai could not perform another miracle in Honolulu – but they came pretty darn close. The Farmers, the number four seed, challenged the number one seed, Castle, and put up a great fight last week, losing 57-44.
“We left everything on the court,” said Kinohi Kelly-Paleka, a senior who had four points in the loss.
After a ferocious first half by Castle, which saw them hit eight three-pointers, the Farmers were down 15, 35-20. But they stormed out of the second half, holding the Castle Knights to just four points in the third quarter while cutting the lead to seven.
But in the fourth quarter, Molokai seemed to lose a little of their luster as close shots did not fall and balls bounced off their hands. Turnovers were also a problem, as several key possessions were squandered with errant passes and sloppy dribbling.
With a little more than three minutes to go and trailing by eight, the Farmers forced an offensive foul on Castle and it appeared a comeback was in the making. Senior Scottie Rapanot hit a short jumper and Molokai had cut the lead to six. After a foul on a Castle player and a missed three pointer by Micah Ritte-Managan, the deficit was back to nine with fewer than two minutes to play.
Molokai was forced to foul on the ensuing possessions and Castle hit their foul shots. When several Molokai three-pointers clanked off the rim, the reality of defeat settled on the faces of the players and coaches and DeRouin called a timeout to gather his team.
“I told them to go out their and finish the game with class,” said DeRouin.
Despite their trademark defense, the hot-shooting Knights kept Molokai guessing with good inside-out penetration and constant motion on the perimeter. Castle also had an outstanding point guard in Michael Santos, an all tournament selection.
Santos had great ball control and was adept at slowing the pace of the game down, just when the Farmers were looking to cut into the deficit. Several times it was Santos’ guard play that prevented a total collapse for Castle. And it was his foul shooting down the stretch that sealed the victory.
The one place Molokai did have an advantage was in the rebounding category, combining for 21 offensive boards and an overall advantage of 15 (48-33). Despite Castle having a taller and larger center, the Farmers were dominant in the front-court, with senior Joseph Akaka scoring at will under the basket.
Akaka, one of the most consistent players in the Maui Interscholastic League (MIL) this year, was the only Farmer to be included on the all-tournament team. He averaged 16.3 points and 12 rebounds in the Farmers' three games in Oahu.
The previous night, the Farmers defeated a tough team from Hawaii Island. Pahoa was the Big Island League runner-up and featured a player, Jonathan Viernes, who had scored 33 points the night before.
Molokai did a great job of containing Viernes, but still found themselves down 30-26 at halftime.
After Kinohi Kelly-Paleka hit a jumper in the lane, and a Pahoa turnover, Joseph Akaka had a layup to bring them within three. At that point the determination of the Farmers was evident and their defensive intensity was too much for Pahoa. They held the Pahoa Daggers scoreless for the next six minutes, combining a full-court press and tenacious in-your-face-defense.
With good guard play and slowed down offense, the Farmers held their small lead in the fourth quarter to secure their victory and advance to the semi-finals for the first time in twenty years.
After their semifinal defeat, the Farmers were understandably less than enthusiastic about their next game. But the chance to play at the Blaisdell Arena held enough excitement to get the Farmers amped for the third place game against the Kohala Cowboys, of Oahu.
After a slow start, the Farmers found their rhythm in the second quarter, but still found themselves down 12 at half. Kohala came out blazing in the third and ran the lead to 26. Molokai had a tremendous comeback in the fourth, outscoring the Cowboys 23-12, but still lost by a score of 70-55.
The big bright spot for the Farmers was the play of senior Micah Ritte-Managan. An all-MIL selection in 2008, Ritte-Managan had been injured nearly the entire season and struggled to find his shooting touch in the first two games of the playoffs. After shooting a dismal one for 11 in the Castle game, he converted on five of eight field goals to score 15 in the loss.
Molokai loses five players to graduation – Scottie Rapanot, Joseph Akaka, Kinohi Kelly-Paleka, Micah Ritte-Manangan and Daniel Espaniola. All five saw significant time for the Farmers, with Rapanot and Akaka forming the nucleus of the team. Ritte-Manangan was hurt for much of the season, but saw playing time at states.
Kelly-Paleka was arguably the MVP for the Farmers in their defeat over Pahoa, sparking their comeback and scoring several key baskets down the stretch. And while Espaniola did not see as much playing time as the others, he was vocal on the bench and often gave the team a much-needed emotional spark.
Junior starters returning will be guards Herbert Antolin and Kawaiola Kalipi. Coming off the bench, returnees include Alvin Ringor, Julien Bumatay and Keoni Kahoalii. Sophomore sensation Kamakana Duvachelle-Andrade and Ryan Rapanot rounded out the crew.
DeRouin said the loss of the seniors will be tough, but he is confident the team can return to the state tournament with a strong squad next year.