By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hilo senior Davin Yagi is the hottest golfer while Hawaii Prep senior Andrew Paisley is a sentimental favorite heading into the Big Island Interscholastic Federation individual championships, where the door is wide open for a host of others, too.
Yagi has pocketed two of the last three meets, beating Paisley by a shot on Wednesday at the Waikoloa Kings’ Course, and getting his first win at Waikoloa Village on April 4. Yagi also has two second-place finishes in the first two tournaments of the season, showing a nice run of consistency.
Paisley is a three-time BIIF runner-up, falling by a stroke last season and in a playoff as a sophomore in 2011. He’s got two victories, too, both early in the season at Hilo Municipal. Then his scores shot up a little, before his second-place finish in the sixth and final regular-season meet.
They aren’t the only hungry golfers capable of posting low scores. Kamehameha junior Cody Pereira has won twice, including sharing a co-medalist honor with Parker sophomore Max Elster, an international student.
Waiakea freshman Trevor Hirata didn’t bring home any gold, but he’s been tailgating the leaders, placing second twice and third twice. The last freshman to win the BIIF title was Honokaa’s Sean Maekawa, a four-time champion, in 2004.
It’s also the last at-bat for two other seniors, Parker’s Evan Kasberg and Kealakehe’s Steve Kim, another pair of strong candidates. They’ve got the same resume: one runner-up finish and one third-place.
Last season at the BIIF championships, Yagi was seventh, 18 shots in back of the winner, Konawaena’s Ryley Chong, who hasn’t golfed since the season-opener and is ineligible for the playoffs.
For the second straight year, the three rounds will be at same golf courses, Hualalai Resort, The Club at Hokulia and finishing at Mauna Kea Golf Course. The rounds are separated by a day, giving the golfers a small window for reflection.
Yagi, who plans to walk on at UH-Hilo, is still thinking about sharpening his game, particularly his irons, despite his par-72 victory at Waikoloa. It was a round of golf where he had one birdie and landed on 7 of 18 greens.
“My game’s been all right. It still needs tweaking. Some parts are rusty, like my approach shots,” he said. “I haven’t been hitting many greens. My chipping and putting were good. That saved me a lot. The win gives me good confidence knowing that I can shoot these kind of numbers and contend.”
He’s putting his experience of playing in the BIIF championships for the past three years to good use. Yagi will rely on his course management, the history lessons he’s learned over the years to hit the ball in a safe spot to set up his next shot.
Still, knowing where to hit the ball is one thing. The execution part, hitting the ball on the nose to a target, is quite another. With that in mind, Yagi remembers one shot that sticks out from last year.
“It was at Mauna Kea, the second to last par 3 and I think I made a 7. It put me down and made my score go higher. I didn’t know the course. It was a bad shot in general,” said Yagi, who already has a plan of attack. “I just want to hit the green and make par.”
Looking at recent history, it’s a good bet that Paisley will be in the title chase. He’s been there every year. He’s been really close the last two times.
“I’ve been working at it three, four years and came up short each year. It gets a little frustrating,” said Paisley, who’s thinking about walking on at Arizona State. “If I put up good numbers, I’ll have a good chance at winning. I just need to focus on doing my own thing and see what happens.”
More than anything, Paisley is counting on the mental side of his game — remaining calm and focused — to steer him through 54 holes of golf. More than anybody in the field, he knows that every shot counts.
“The three course are set up pretty well,” he said. “Each one is harder than the next. I like Hualalai because we practice there a lot. I like the layout. It’s pretty wide and forgiving. It’s a nice course to start at. It gets everyone going.
“I can’t get ahead of myself, if I start off too strong. I know I have to be calm and keep steady. There’s no need to be thinking about a low round. It’s three rounds and you’ve got to take your time. You have to stick to your game and put up three good numbers.”
History and tradition are on Waiakea’s side for producing another girls BIIF champion. Warriors senior Ciera Min has played in five tournaments, won twice and shared medalist honors twice with teammate and fellow senior Shaina Mizusawa. Min is the defending BIIF champ and Mizusawa won the title in 2011.
The Waiakea trio of Min, Mizusawa and Andi Igawa combined to win all six regular-season events. Mizusawa won March 29 at Hilo Municipal — Min was runner-up — and Igawa was coming off a victory at Mauna Lani.
Last season, Min erased a four-shot deficit and beat Igawa by 11 strokes for the BIIF title.
A Warrior has won every BIIF title since 1994.
BIIF golf championships
What: First round of 54-hole championships
When: 11 a.m. Sunday
Where: Hualalai Resort