Kaimuki roars back from huge halftime deficit, takes down ‘Aiea for OIA Division II Boys’ crown

Kaimuki roars back from huge halftime deficit, takes down ‘Aiea for OIA Division II Boys’ crown

Kaimuki Bulldogs rally from double-digit halftime deficit to win second OIA D2 title in three years. | Photo Credit: Paul Brecht, HSRN

Kaimuki roars back from huge halftime deficit, takes down Aiea for OIA Division II Boys’ crown

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 14, 2024

HONOLULU — The Kaimuki Bulldogs flipped the second-half script Wednesday night at McKinley High School, taking down the ‘Aiea Na Ali’i by rallying from an 18-point halftime deficit in the OIA Division II Boys’ Basketball championship for the program’s second OIA title in three seasons, 63-58. 

It wasn’t a pretty start for the Bulldogs as ‘Aiea shot 50% from the field in the first quarter to jump out to an 18-11 lead through eight minutes as Kaimuki struggled to find a consistent offense. Things worsened in the second quarter for the top team in the OIA’s D2 East division, watching ‘Aiea continue to light it up from the floor behind the two-headed offensive monster of Taylor Moku and Stefan Ognjanovic as Na Ali’i rattled off nine makes over 16 shots in the second frame to enter the locker room up big, 38-20. 

Despite being held scoreless through one half as his team struggled offensively, Kaimuki’s Jeremiah White remained calm and ready to help his team slowly chip away with 16 more minutes to play. 

“We just kept pushing, kept pursuing because we knew this wasn’t over,” White said of the Bulldogs’ unwavering confidence despite the deficit. “We’ve been down like this before, so we knew what to do. With the shot clock, it gives [us] more opportunities and more possessions as a team … We just leaned on each other as brothers and just kept fighting.” 

That confidence shined brightly to open the second half as the Bulldogs showed off their bite, outscoring ‘Aiea by 11 in the third quarter to reignite the Kaimuki faithful in attendance as Daysen Lupica poured in eight points in the frame to bring the game within single digits heading into the fourth, 46-39. 

That’s when White decided to take the game by the horns. 

The senior guard poured in 10 of his 15 points over the final eight minutes of regulation, going 8-of-10 from the charity stripe while all the guards for the Bulldogs fed forward Harmon Sio down low as Kaimuki completed the improbable comeback to down ‘Aiea in regulation, 63-58.  

“[Jeremiah] is a special guy, they don’t make [players like him] that often so I’m just happy he’s on our team,” Bulldogs’ head coach Greydon Espinosa said of his senior leader postgame.  

Kaimuki outscored ‘Aiea by 23 points after halftime, using Sio’s 19 points off the bench and White’s heroic fourth quarter performance to snag the Bulldogs’ second OIA Division II title in three years. Lupica poured in 19 points while handing out five assists for Kaimuki, who now enters the state tournament on a three-game win streak. 

‘Aiea was led by Shealand Kazama, who posted a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the loss. Junior guard Taylor Meki closed the night with 12 points, four rebounds and four steals while Santi Sarbeland collected 15 rebounds (six offensive rebounds) in the loss for Na Ali’i.