WAHIAWA — Late-game comebacks have been the theme of 2017 for the Leilehua girls basketball team.
Chyel Palmer scored a game-high 16 points to help Leilehua claw past visiting Mililani, 46-41, in an Oahu Interscholastic Association Western Division game at Paul T. Kobayashi Gymnasium Saturday night.
The Mules (7-1) erased a six-point deficit after three quarters, by outscoring the Trojans (6-2), 18 to 7, in the fourth quarter. It was their second fourth-quarter rally en route to a five-point win in five nights. They outscored Campbell, 16-9, in the final period of Tuesday night's game in Ewa Beach.
The win puts Leilehua, the reigning league champion, in the driver's seat in the West. It can clinch the division's top seed with a win over Pearl City (2-6) next Wednesday because it has head-to-head wins over Mililani and Nanakuli (6-2), who are both tied for second place. The top two teams in both the East and West receive a first-round bye in the upcoming 12-team OIA tournament.
"I hope we have a bye locked up," Mules' coach Elroy Dumlao said. "These girls work so hard. We've had some injuries and hopefully we'll get some healing time to work on things that we need to work on going into the playoffs, where we'll face a higher echelon of teams."
It was Leilehua's sixth straight win since a 31-26 loss to Radford to open league play on Dec. 13.
It did not come easy.
The Mules battled foul trouble to several key players, including leading scorer Chyel Palmer, who picked up three quick fouls in the first five minutes of the game.
Palmer, a senior forward scored eight points before going to the bench with 3:12 left in the first quarter. She did not return to the game until the start of the second half. Two others — senior center Abigail Foores and freshman guard Kimberley Owens — also had three fouls by halftime. As a team, Leilehua was whistled for 15 first-half fouls to just four for Mililani.
The Trojans held a 34-28 lead after three quarters, but the Mules pulled even at 36 on a Shaylee Todani 3-pointer from the right wing with 4:55 to play. Todani hit all three of her team's 3-pointers and finished with 10 points.
"She came in clutch tonight on a couple of possessions and she's been doing that for us," Dumlao said. "She works hard in practice with it, but I told her tonight that she had to be the facilitator. I needed her to control the ball a little bit more, not really looking for her shot, but when it did come I wanted her to take it and it did come on the weak side when we swung it toward her and she was wide open."
Leilehua took the lead for good on its next possession on Palmer's 16-foot jumper that made the score 38-36 with 4:05 remaining.
Mililani made it a two-point game following a pair of made free throws by Kayla Torres with 2:02 left, but the Mules scored the next five points to pull away.
"You've always got to credit the other team, but on our part we just could not find a rhythm tonight. I don't know what happened. It just wasn't a good night of basketball for most of us," Trojans coach Pat Basilio said. "We had the game plan, we had them exactly where we wanted, their three star players were on the bench and we could not take advantage of it."
Palmer added eight more points after the intermission before fouling out with 2:02 left. Kaylen Kamelamela scored eight of her 10 points after halftime for Leilehua.
Kalena Gibson and Torres scored 10 points apiece for Mililani, which was held 11 points under its scoring average of 52.7 points per game.
The Mules struggled from the free-throw line for much of the night. They were just 2 of 8 from the charity stripe in the first three quarters, but made 9 of 15 in the final eight minutes.
"We weren't hitting the free throws earlier, but we hit them at the end when it really counted and I think that's the one that carried us over and I'm super proud of these girls," Dumlao said. "I just told the girls that you can't beat a good team if you're not good at handling adversity and that's exactly what happened tonight. We had to manage the clock a little bit better because their bigs got us in foul trouble early and we survived it. The girls stepped up."
The Trojans led at halftime, 23-20.
Mililani will host Waialua (0-9) Wednesday before traveling to Waipahu Friday to wrap up the regular season.
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