By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Winning a championship is difficult but repeating can be at times almost impossible.
Don’t tell that to the talented Hawaii Preparatory Academy boys basketball team. On Saturday night, the Ka Makani proved they can make the difficult look easy with an impressive 64-39 win over Pahoa in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II championship game.
About 1,200 fans watched the final at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
With the win, the Ka Makani (8-4) claimed their second straight BIIF D-II championship and earned the league’s top seed in the state D-II tournament. They will be joined by the runner-up Daggers (8-6) in the eight-team event, scheduled Feb. 21-23 in Honolulu.
Junior Buck Thomas scored 16 points, including four 3-pointers, junior Kalan Camero had 13 and senior Jovan Crnic 11, all in the second half, to lead HPA past the gutsy Daggers.
But Pahoa, the East Division’s top seed and playing without all-star forward Nick Fisher, challenged the Ka Makani in a physical first half. West Division top seed HPA led 15-13 at the end of the first period and 29-23 at halftime.
Not once did the inspired Daggers back down in the opening half and Ka Makani co-coaches Dave Huntington and Fred Wawner made some key adjustments at the intermission.
“Give Pahoa credit, they played really well,” Huntington said. “We felt like they were getting all the 50-50 balls, so we asked our guys to step up and rebound a whole lot better.
“We also asked them to be more patient on offense and we got a lot more baskets inside.”
The 6-foot-4 Crnic, a multitalented point guard from Serbia, didn’t score in the first half. But he started getting to the rack in the third period, scoring nine of HPA’s 21 points. The Ka Makani defense also stepped up and held the tiring Daggers to only seven points.
The Ka Makani then carried a 50-30 advantage into the fourth quarter. And with the Daggers playing without the high-scoring Fisher, who was in the hospital recovering from severe dehydration from the previous night, the final eight minutes belonged to the champion Ka Makani.
HPA outscored Pahoa 14-9 in the fourth period, but Huntington and Wawner emptied their bench midway through the quarter and their starters watched as time ticked down on their second straight BIIF title.
“It feels great to repeat,” said Camero, the hustling guard who teams with Crnic to give the Ka Makani one of the best backcourt combinations in the state at the D-II level.
“The coaches prepared us well for tonight. Pahoa is a great team and even without Fisher, they’re still very good.”
Camero finished a productive evening with his 13 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals.
“My job is to help bring the ball upcourt and get into the offense,” the soft-spoken Camero said. “I like to get my teammates the ball. Buck is a great shooter and Jovan can knock it down. I only look for my shot if I’m open.
“I love my team and the way we play. It’s great to repeat, and last year we finished third in the states. This year, we want to win it all.”
Crnic also had nice numbers against Pahoa: 11 points, seven rebounds, two steals and four assists.
But like Huntington and Wawner preach, HPA is all about team basketball and every player filling their important roles.
Thomas, the hot-shooting guard with a sly grin, drilled all four of his treys in the second quarter while the hustling Daggers, led by sophomore Tolby Saito and senior Randin Napeahi, matched the Ka Makani on almost every basket.
But in the second half, Thomas did what his teammates did — he played hard on defense and hit the boards. He finished with six rebounds and two steals.
HPA also got a defensive spark from junior Kellen Gillins, who matched up with the dangerous Saito for much of the game. Saito had a game-high 22 points, but he had to earn them with the Ka Makani defense shadowing him on every Pahoa possession.
Napeahi finished with 10 points and was the only other Dagger to reach double figures against the defensive-minded Ka Makani.
“It’s feels great to win back-to-back championships,” Huntington said. “Our kids have worked really hard all year and it’s paying off. We’re happy to be moving on, but we want to credit Pahoa and Honokaa for challenging us to get better.
“Now, we want to go to states, play the best we can, and see what happens.”
Wawner was not available for comment; he was wiping up a wet spot on the court.
Last year, BIIF champion Hawaii Prep and runner-up Kohala represented the league in the state D-II tournament on Oahu. The Ka Makani placed third and hope to improve on that finish this year.
Pahoa was upset by Kohala in the BIIF semifinals last year and didn’t make the state tournament. But the Daggers had been a force in the D-II event, winning one state title and finishing runner-up another time.
The final day of the state D-II tournament will be played at Blaisdell Arena. The championship game will be held at 6 p.m., followed by the state D-I title contest at 7:30 p.m.
Go to www.sportshigh.com to see the game times and day-to-day schedules for the state tournaments.
Note: KTA Super Stores is the title sponsor for the BIIF D-I and II boys basketball tournaments.
At Hilo Civic
Pahoa 13 10 7 9 — 39
Hawaii Prep 15 14 21 14 — 64