By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
In a physical game of streaks and high intensity, Hawaii Prep found a way to pull out a victory and earn a chance to defend its Division II title.
Jovan Crnic and Buck Thomas each scored 13 points and Kalan Camero had 11 to lead the Ka Makani to a 50-45 win over the Dragons in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II boys basketball semifinals Friday.
In the other semifinal at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, Pahoa defeated Kohala 67-65. The Ka Makani (7-4) will battle the Daggers (8-5) at 6 p.m. today in the D-II final at the Civic. Both teams earned berths in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament, which starts Thursday on Oahu.
Hawaii Prep trailed 12-9 at the end of the first quarter before streaking to a 30-15 halftime lead. During their strong second period, the Ka Makani were able to control the glass and get out in transition, and the hustling Thomas, a 5-foot-10 junior, drained a pair of 3-pointers to help Hawaii Prep maintain its momentum.
Crnic, a 6-4 senior point guard, scored eight of his 13 points in the opening half while the steady Camero, a junior guard, added seven for the Ka Makani.
“We did enough to win,” Hawaii Prep co-coach Fred Wawner said. “We knew when we had a big lead at halftime that it wouldn’t end up a 15-point game.
“We had two quality teams playing and we knew Honokaa would come back strong. But we’re happy to get the win and be playing tomorrow (today).”
Hawaii Prep then outscored Honokaa 15-11 in the third quarter and enjoyed a commanding 45-26 advantage heading into the final period.
But the Dragons, under head coach Cheyenne Meyer, dug deep, started getting a few calls go in their direction, and finally made shots against the Ka Makani’s zone and man-to-man defenses.
Led by seniors Keanu Freitas and Alika Alip, Honokaa (6-6) outpointed the Ka Makani 19-1 over the first 5:45 of the fourth quarter, pulling to within 46-45 on Alip’s driving layup.
But Camero answered with a clutch 15-foot pull-up jumper at the 1:37 mark to give Hawaii Prep a 48-45 lead.
The Dragons looked for a game-tying trey on their next possession, but when a deep attempt fell short, the alert Thomas grabbed the rebound with 1:18 left.
Honokaa got the ball back on a Ka Makani turnover and Meyer called time out. But Hawaii Prep’s defense held again and senior Kama DeSilva yanked down the rebound. Then the Ka Makani got a wide-open layup from Hide Akai at with 28 seconds left to stretch their lead to 50-45.
That would be the last points as Honokaa missed on two long attempts and Hawaii Prep grabbed the second rebound as time ran out.
Freitas finished with a game-high 17 points, including three 3-pointers. Twelve of his points came in the second half and he also had a team-high eight rebounds.
Alip, who played well at the point, scored 14 points, including 10 after the intermission when the Dragons made their impressive comeback.
Teammates Wayne Vaoga (seven rebounds) and shooting guard Isaiah Meyer added seven and six points, respectively.
Besides scoring, the talented Crnic also had a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with four assists and two blocked shots.
Camero had four assists and four steals while the aggressive DeSilva had seven points and five rebounds.
Wawner praised the play of Thomas and the other Ka Makani who made a difference.
“When Buck is playing well, we play well,” Wawner said. “We count so much on Jovan, Kalan and Kama, but we need the other guys to step up. Buck certainly stepped up for us today.”
Thomas said he had struggled shooting the ball the past two games.
“I couldn’t make anything,” he said. “But the coaches said they have confidence in me and to keep shooting. It felt really good when I made those first two 3-pointers in the first half.”
And Thomas, like his teammates and Hawaii Prep fans, felt some jitters in that frantic fourth period when Honokaa closed to within a point.
“That 19-1 run was real rough,” Thomas said with a grin. “It was kind of hectic. But we work on those situations all the time and we able to get it done today.”
Coach Meyer never likes to lose, but he praised his team’s play, especially in the fourth period when they almost caught the favored Ka Makani.
“It was not the way we wanted it to end,” Meyer said. “But I’m proud of the effort. We were down by 19, cut it to one, and actually could have taken the lead — but we missed a putback.”
He felt a second-period letdown hurt as Hawaii Prep took control heading into the intermission.
“All year we’ve had one quarter that would kill us,” Meyer said. “and tonight, the second quarter killed us.”
The Dragons finished their season with a 6-6 record. They rallied to beat East No. 2 Ka’u 63-54 in overtime.
During the BIIF regular season, the Ka Makani and Dragons split their two contests.
KTA Super Stores is the title sponsor for the BIIF D-I and II boys basketball tournaments.
At Hilo Civic
Honokaa 12 3 11 19 — 45
Hawaii Prep 9 21 15 5 — 50