By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
With a young team, Kamehameha coach Dominic Pacheco couldn’t have asked for a much better situation.
His defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I basketball champion Warriors (8-3) weren’t expected to contend for the title this season. But with one of the league’s best in senior Shaun Kagawa and a solid supporting cast, the Warriors find themselves going into tonight’s regular-season finale against visiting Hilo (9-2) with a chance to earn the East Division’s top seed for next week’s BIIF playoffs.
“We’re in a really good position,” Pacheco said. “If we can beat Hilo, it’d give us the East’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye next week in the BIIF playoffs. But it’s been an interesting season and with such a young team, we’ve just tried to find a way to win and get the best seed in the playoffs that we can.”
The Vikings, hampered by injuries this season, currently sit alone atop the East standings, and with a win over Kamehameha they would clinch the East’s top seed and the first-round bye Wednesday. However, if the host Warriors are able to pull off an upset and if Waiakea (8-3) beats Keaau (6-5) in another contest tonight, three teams could finish tied for first in the final regular-season standings with 9-3 records.
“We’re just going to try to take care of business on our end first,” Pacheco said. “It’s our Senior Night and there will be a lot of emotions. We just want to be ready to focus and play well, to give us a chance at winning. It’s a big night for our seniors but as a team, we want to do well.
“For our young team, it’s a great accomplishment to get this far. The kids have come a long way.”
The Warriors seniors are the versatile 5-foot-11 Kagawa, 6-1 forward Ilikai Calip and 5-10 forward Arden Costales. Kagawa and Calip start while Costales comes off the bench.
Kamehameha played well in its first meeting with the talented Vikings, leading most of the way before falling 59-58 on Jodd Carter’s shot in the final seconds at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. If Kamehameha wins by more than two points tonight and Keaau beats Waiakea, the private-school Warriors would tie with the Vikings and be awarded the East’s top seed due to the league’s tiebreaker rule involving head-to-head competition.
If there is a three-way tie for first place, BIIF executive director Lyle Crozier said head-to-head competition and total points differential in games played between the teams would be used to determine the final seedings.
In earlier regular-season games, Kamehameha defeated Waiakea 63-59 and 50-45; Waiakea topped Hilo 62-49 and 55-45.
The East and West division top seeds draw first-round byes in the six-team D-I tournament, which begins Wednesday on the highest seeds’ home courts. The winners then join the top seeds in the semifinals Feb. 15 at Hilo Civic. The semifinal winners battle for the league’s title and No. 1 seed in the state tournament on Feb. 16 at the Civic.
The BIIF champion and runner-up will represent the league in the 12-team state event, slated Feb. 20-23 in Honolulu.
Unbeaten Konawaena (9-0) has already clinched the West’s D-I top seed and will have a first-round bye into the BIIF semifinals. Kealakehe (3-7) is the West’s No. 2 seed.
In the first round of the D-I playoffs, the East No. 2 seed will host the East No. 4 Keaau while the West No. 2 Kealakehe will host the East’s No. 3 seed. West No. 1 seed Konawaena then battles the the East No. 2/No. 4 winner in the first semifinal at the Civic, followed by the East’s No. 1 seed vs. the West No. 2/East No. 3 winner.
In the West’s D-II standings, Hawaii Prep (6-3) and Kohala (6-3) are tied for first place going into tonight’s games. Hawaii Prep plays at Honokaa (4-5) while Kohala visits Konawaena. In the other regular-season finale tonight, it’s St. Joseph (0-11) at Pahoa (6-5).
If Hawaii Prep and Kohala tie for first place in the final regular-season standings, the Ka Makani — based on head-to-head competition — would be awarded the No. 1 seed and along with East No. 1 Pahoa earns a first-round bye in the BIIF’s six-team D-II playoffs.
Hawaii Prep fell to the Cowboys 52-51 in their first meeting in Kohala before the Ka Makani rolled to a 67-36 victory in their second meeting Jan. 25 in Waimea.
The BIIF’s D-II playoffs begin Wednesday with East No. 2 seed Ka’u hosting West No. 3 Honokaa and West No. 2 hosting East No. 3 St. Joseph. The winners then join the top seeds in the tournament semifinals Feb. 15 at Hilo Civic. A day later at the Civic, the semifinal winners battle for the league title and its No. 1 seed in the upcoming state tournament on Oahu.
The BIIF was awarded two state D-I and II berths this season. The state D-I tournament is an eight-team event.
St. Joseph 0-11
Hawaii Prep 6-3
St. Joseph at Pahoa, 7 p.m.
*Hilo at Kamehameha
*Waiakea at Keaau
*HPA at Honokaa
*Kohala at Konawaena
*6 p.m. JV, varsity follows