KAPAA — After leading for the majority of the game, the Warriors lost their advantage late in the closing minutes.
Warriors junior guard Kunani Tuttle hit a mid-range jumper to tie the score, 33-33 with just more than 2 minutes left on the game clock. Fast forward to 28 seconds left, Tuttle was fouled and was sent to the free throw line with a chance to bail out her team.
“I was praying a lot, and I was thinking about what my coaches taught me. I was just going back to everything,” Tuttle said about that moment at the charity stripe.
She nailed both free throws. Add one more by senior guard Shai-anne Abigania, and Kapaa High School’s varsity girls basketball team escaped with a much-needed win, 36-33, at home against Waimea on Tuesday night.
“We knew they (Waimea) would get better. That’s just how it goes,” Tuttle said. “I know it was closer than our last game. I think we didn’t expect they could come out as fiery, but we pulled it together at the end.”
She ended the night with four points, all scored in the fourth quarter.
With the win, Kapaa (2-1 KIF) stays in the hunt for the first round of the Kauai Interscholastic Federation season.
“We had a good first half, and then we started making a lot of mistakes at the end of the second half. When we got down by 2 points, we started rushing,” said Warriors head coach William Aki. “Talked to the girls about it. Ball control is everything, especially at the end, whether we’re winning or losing. We squeaked by.”
Waimea (0-3 KIF) took its first lead, 32-31 at the 3:14 mark of the final quarter with a layup from junior center Melia Okura. Sophomore forward Shania Kahepuu would add a free throw to the Menehune lead, but Waimea couldn’t close the game down the stretch.
“When you know you control your own fate like in tonight’s game, and the opportunity to win was in your hands and you came that short, you look at yourself and say, ‘OK, we got to go back and know what we got to work on,’” said Menehune head coach Brandon Moises. “I told the girls in the locker room that they’re going to be a different team in the second round coming out of this game. What we do with it now, that is the question.”
He added though it’s still a loss, how close this game was proved that no team can take a game lightly despite previous results. Waimea lost to Kapaa, 49-31 in the season opener last week.
“All we asked of the girls is that they compete. The first two games, they played but didn’t compete,” Moises said. “We competed. Now, we got to be smart. That’s the next step.
“With the hand that we’re dealt and the players we got, I don’t see why, after tonight’s game and being outsized, we cannot go home and say that even though we’re shorter, we can contend. Tonight was evident,” he added.
Waimea senior guard Caitlyn Owen made her season debut after sitting out the first two games because of injuries from playing with the school’s girls soccer team. She said coming back to the basketball court was “awesome.”
Owen was Waimea’s leading scorer with 11 points. Okura had 8 points and junior forward Schae-Marie Tavita had 6.
“We were trying to be aggressive, but not foul. That one rebound, we didn’t block out, so we ended up chasing the ball and ended up fouling. That’s what hurt us,” Owen said about the last moments of the game. “We just got to believe in ourselves (going forward).”
Kapaa junior forward Tori Daligcon-Pomaikai also had 11 points to lead her team in scoring. Sophomore forward Paea Tafea had 10 points and junior center Siokapesi Paua had 8.
In the junior varsity game, Kapaa won, 51-33. Tupou Paua scored 14 points for the JV Warriors and Kiarra Palacio scored 12 for the Menehune.
Waimea will host Kauai High School (2-0 KIF) on Tuesday. The JV game begins 5:30 p.m. and the varsity will follow. Kapaa will play at Kauai on Jan. 9 to wrap up the first round. A playoff game will be determined if necessary.
“First of all, I’m hoping Waimea gives them (Kauai) a hard time. They got to go through Waimea before they come back to us,” Aki said. “If we (improve) our ball control and make our free throws, then we have a good chance to come back, or at least tie, for the first round.”