Quest for Back-To-Back OIA Titles Remains Alive as Mililani Takes Down Leilehua
By: Paul Brecht
ALIAMANU — The buzzer sounded as Leilehua forward Pule Atualevao’s 3-point try from the corner bounced off the rim, as Mililani held on for the 40-37 win over a talented Leilehua unit in the OIA Division I semifinals Monday night.
A high-paced, heavy-defensive affair all evening, the first quarter represented a pair of teams evenly matched. Though Mililani had beaten Leilehua back on December 17, the Mules looked like the better team right after tip-off.
Zelston Militante, Leilehua’s leading scorer throughout league play, started things out scorching hot as he scored seven of the Mules’ nine first quarter points. A 7-2 run by Leilehua to begin the game made the Trojans stagger back to begin the game, but the West’s top team answered back with a run of their own to tie the game at 9-all.
A defensive switch of Jayden Kipapa onto Militante as the point-of-attack defender made a stark difference for the Trojans, as Mililani’s usual top scorer played the role of defensive stopper instead.
Militante was held scoreless for the rest of the first half, a testament to Kipapa’s on-ball and off-ball defense. Mililani, aided by forward Creighton Ofsonka’s 7 points in the frame and a satisfactory performance at the free throw line, opened a 23-16 halftime lead over the Mules.
.@OIASports DI Semifinals: At the half, Mililani leads Leilehua 23-16. 2nd half coming up next on @HIsportsradio 💪 pic.twitter.com/CLGo82IKFg— Ku'ulei (@KuuleiAgbayani) January 31, 2023
The big-time run by the Trojans was much needed, as Leilehua guard Twain Wilson started to heat up in the second half and Militante is a player who can go off at any time. The third quarter saw the Mules open on a run, holding the Trojans to just a LeCedric Brown 3-pointer as they chipped away at the lead.
Kipapa, who struggled from the field all evening (2-12 FG), knocked down his only two baskets of the game following a break in the action to settle down Mililani and re-steady the defending OIA champions and helped the Trojans maintain the lead, 32-28, heading into the final quarter.
Mililani was happy to drain the clock throughout the fourth quarter with long possessions, settling for shots mostly at the rim, if at all.
Opportunity was abound for the Mules in the fourth quarter, but Leilehua shot 3-of-9 from the free throw line in the final period, killing chances to cut into the lead or even tie the game.
Just when all hope looked to be lost for Leilehua, the Mules got a gift from the basketball gods.
After Mililani’s J Marxen missed a free throw on the front end of a one-and-one, the Mules rebounded the ball and drove it the length of the floor. A drive to the paint and kick-out to a wide-open Pule Atualevao gave Leilehua a look to tie it right at the buzzer, but the shot would not go as the Mules fell short of revenge on the Trojans.
Leilehua was led by Zelston Militante’s 12 points before the senior fouled out in the final minute. Wilson chipped in 11 points and three steals in the semifinal loss for the Mules. Leilehua shot 5-of-15 overall from the free throw line.
Mililani was paced by Ofsonka’s 11 points to go along with seven rebounds. Marxen ended the night with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists to help propel the Trojans to the program’s second straight OIA championship game berth.
The Trojans will now move on to face Campbell, the winner of the previous semifinal. Campbell enters the game at 11-1 in league play, with the lone loss coming back on January 13 to Mililani when Trojans lead guard Jayden Kipapa dropped 29 points on 6 made 3-pointers.
The OIA Division I and II championships will be broadcast live Wednesday night with Div. II tip off around 5:30 PM HST. Catch all the action with us on 95.1 FM/760 AM /hawaiisportsradio.com
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