Defense, Big 2nd Quarter Key East Top-Seeded Moanalua to Win Over Radford
By: Paul Brecht
MOANALUA — The Moanalua Na Menehune (16-4, 13-0) stayed unbeaten in OIA play Monday night, as the OIA Division I East leaders took down the Radford Rams (11-3, 10-2), 35-32, to move on to the OIA Division I championship game.
“It’s a blessing,” Moanalua head coach Kirk Ronolo said following the win. “We don’t look at our record. Whatever is in front of us next, that’s our focus. I try to teach these girls that no matter what happened in the past, we got to move forward. I don’t drive my car looking in the rear view mirror.”
It was a back-and-forth affair all throughout the evening, as each team raced down the floor in transition trying to find easy baskets against otherwise staunch defensive schemes. Radford led, 9-8, after the first quarter of play as Mailana Mattos paced the Rams with four points.
It was the second quarter when the Na Menehune turned up the heat, using a full-court press to score the period’s first four points. Following a Julissa Bollinger 3-pointer to help Radford tie it at 11, Moanalua found the team’s collective touch from long range, hitting three triples in the opening half en route to a 22-18 halftime advantage.
Nine first half turnovers by the road Rams caused for the team’s undoing, allowing for the top-seeded East squad to grab the lead that they would not relinquish.
The third quarter began with more of the same, as Na Menehune defense locked up Radford’s offense and Moanalua opened an eight-point lead. The Rams did not score a point until more than halfway through the period and entered the game’s final frame down, 28-22.
“I told my girls tonight, defense and rebounds,” Ronolo recalled. “The more rebounds we get, the more possessions we get. The more possessions we get, the more scoring opportunities [we get]. If we get more opportunities than them, it should play in our favor.”
The game seemed to go directly by the head coach’s script, as Na Menehune forced 15 turnovers and were +8 on the offensive glass. This allowed Moanalua multiple chances to score in transition and hold the Rams to just one shot per possession nearly every time down the floor.
The fourth quarter was no walk in the park for top-rated Moanalua though, as Radford chipped away at the Na Menehune lead. An 8-2 run by the Rams, capped by another Bollinger 3-pointer with 4:18 remaining in regulation, cut the Moanalua advantage to just 33-30.
Ronolo called a timeout to reset his team and go over the possible looks Radford coach Charles Chong would throw at them in a one possession game with under four minutes remaining.
“I have the utmost respect for [Chong]. We still had a three-point advantage, so I told my girls that we don’t need to panic,” Ronolo explained postgame. “If we had a scoring opportunity, take advantage of it if it’s an uncontested layup. If not, passing the ball, pass and cut.”
Coming out of the timeout, Radford sat back in a 2-3 zone, which allowed Moanalua to drain a substantial portion of the remaining time as Na Menehune passed the ball around. It seemed as though the team got anxious, as the Rams picked up the pressure with time dwindling down in regulation and forced a turnover.
A Moanalua foul would send the Rams to the line for a 1-and-1 chance, down just three points with 31.5 seconds remaining. The front-end of the 1-and-1 was missed and Radford was called for a free-throw violation, turning the ball on over to the Na Menehune.
Rhea Nobleza stepped to the line and calmly cashed in a pair of foul shots on the ensuing possession, extending the lead to five points. Moanalua would have a steal and a block to help run out the clock before a last-second Rams bucket went in.
Moanalua, who now heads to Wednesday’s OIA Division I championship game, was paced by Braylee Riturban’s 12 points. Shailoh Li’ili’I chipped in seven points to go along with seven rebounds in the Na Menehune win.
Radford, who will now play Wednesday evening at 6:30 PM at Kaiser in the 3rd place game, was led by Jirah Villanueva’s nine points. Olena Umetsu, Mailana Mattos and Julissa Bollinger each scored seven points for the Rams.