Leilehua Counting On Balance And Effort In Tournament

Two common trends among the teams that have fared the best at the Hawaiian Airlines State Basketball Tournament through the years is that they defend well and can operate in the half-court set.

That’s comforting information for Leilehua this week as the Mules begin play in the 2012 Hawaiian Airlines Division I Tournament. Defense has, indeed, been its forte, and Leilehua can usually come up with the scoring it needs.

“Defense has been our strength for the most part,” said Leilehua head coach Pat Wetzel. “We’ve done a good job of playing hard. Teams have made runs on us, but the kids have always been able to come back and keep playing hard. The great thing about this team is that I never have to worry about us not playing hard. If we do lose, it will never be because we hadn’t given our best effort. They listen and do what’s been asked of them, and because of that, we’ve been successful.”

The Mules will have had a 10-day layoff by the time they play their first-round game on Wednesday. (Pairings for the state tournament, which runs Wednesday through Saturday, were to be released late Sunday after press time.)

Leilehua enters the tournament at 12-9 overall (including preseason games), and it has won 10 of its last 12 games. A sixgame win streak highlighted their regular season. Veteran leadership has played a large role in the Mules’ success, according to Wetzel.

“The six seniors have contributed a lot,” he said.

The Mules also have balance going for them, which has made them a team difficult to defend with several capable scorers. In recent games, Leilehua’s starting lineup has included T.J. Ross, Reece Acohido, Jeremiah Andrade and Russell Siavii, with Larry Wheeler-Rutkowski and Penetito Melei alternating at the fifth spot.

“We have nine different guys stepping up,” said Wetzel. “In six of our last seven games, we’ve had a different kid lead us in scoring. Having everyone on the same page, collectively, helps.”

Among the areas of focus for Leilehua during the layoff was eliminating self-imposed miscues, notably turnovers.

“We’ve been getting good shots, but what has killed us at times has been our careless passes, which have resulted in turnovers,” Wetzel said. “Against Kahuku (in a 64-49 loss at the OIA Tournament), we had 11 in six or seven in the first four (minutes) of our game with Moanalua (a 52-47 setback in the OIA Tourney). We hope to minimize the turnovers. If we do, we can be a team to be reckoned with at the state tournament.”

Wetzel, who is finishing up his second season as Leilehua’s head coach, acknowledged the contributions of assistants Randy Sagon, Rudy Domingo, Kennedy Orteza and Russ Fitzgerald in helping with Leilehua’s day-today preparations.

“I have to thank them (publicly),” Wetzel said of his staff. “They’re a bunch of great guys. They’ve been there every day with the kids, working with them on basketball and life.”