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No. 1 Punahou ekes by No. 3 'Iolani

By Brian McInnis

LAST UPDATED: 2:05 a.m. HST, Apr 30, 2011

A shanked pass here, some miscommunication there.

That was about all that separated No. 3 ‘Iolani from top-ranked Punahou, but those windows of opportunity were all the Buffanblu needed to complete a tightly played sweep, 25-22, 26-24, 25-23 last night at the Raiders' gym.

Coach Rick Tune's balanced squad was just a little better in hostile territory, especially late in each game. The Buffanblu rallied from a 20-16 deficit in Game 3 with a 9-3 run to close it out.

"We responded well. I mean, they're going to make runs at you, especially good teams," Tune said. "And ‘Iolani's a good team. We expect them to make runs at us, and we just try to muster up some runs of our own."

Freshman hitter Larry "Tui" Tuileta seemed to be in on every momentum-turning play en route to a team-high 13 kills. Dual setters Tyler Kubota and Lowell Tong combined for 35 assists in the win, while senior middle Ben Lam added eight kills and four blocks.

Punahou (16-0, 2-0 Interscholastic League of Honolulu second round) already locked up a state berth by running the table in ILH first-round play. Now the Buffanblu look to close the season strong, with Tuileta, their freshman phenom, leading the charge. Tune lauded him for his humility and willingness to learn.

"It's been great. The team has really showed me a good time, showed me the ropes on the varsity level," Tuileta said. "They told me this (‘Iolani) team would play good at their house, and I was expecting their greatest effort."

So he gave ‘Iolani his. Tuileta had the final word in Game 1, weaving a kill around the block for the last point in a frame controlled start to finish by the Buffanblu.

He was a difference-maker again in the second game, one defined by wild swings of momentum. ‘Iolani appeared poised to tie the match up at a game apiece with a 17-15 lead, but Punahou responded with a 5-0 run and a 20-17 advantage thanks to some Raiders attack errors. The game was tied five more times after that, despite two big go-ahead kills from Tuileta.

Raiders junior hitter Gabriel Vega (match-high 14 kills) put down a shot to tie it at 24, but ‘Iolani was undone by consecutive miscues — a net violation and a poor pass, leading to an attack error — to put Punahou up two games to none.

‘Iolani recovered quickly and played with heart to try to extend the match, but Punahou was dialed in when it mattered. A Tuileta roll shot from the back row gave Punahou match point. Fittingly, the final point was given on an ‘Iolani service error.

"When you lose 25-23, one play ties it up at 24. All those little plays that we're just not making ... we lose an opportunity," ‘Iolani coach Mike Among said. "It's coming, but it's just not quite there. And against a team like Punahou, you just can't afford to make those types of errors."

The Raiders (13-3, 1-1 second round) host No. 2 Kamehameha (15-1) today at 1 p.m. in a match that could well decide the ILH's second and final state berth recipient.

"It has to be (the season on the line)," Among said. "One more loss and we're out, basically. Doesn't matter if it's Kamehameha or Saint Louis or Mid-Pacific. So we have to win out in order to give ourselves a chance."

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