By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
That’s a term that’s hard for most teenagers to deal with in everyday life, since being in your teens often means doing everything while going 60 miles per hour.
But on Monday night at the Waiakea Gym, the host Warriors played in their own basketball comfort zone for most of their 32-minute contest with rival Hilo in a battle for first place in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s East Division standings and came away with a rock-solid 55-45 win before about 750 fans.
It was the second time in a week that Waiakea (6-1) pulled out a victory over the hustling Vikings (5-2) and Monday night’s win lifted the hosts into sole possession of first place in the East.
Junior Dillon Rellez led the Warriors with 19 points and proved again to be the difference-maker in the fourth quarter against Hilo. He drilled 11 of 13 free throws in the final period — a week after making 9 of 10 from the line in a 62-49 win over the Vikings at Hilo Civic.
But the Warriors also proved that they’re much more comfortable playing as a team and they’ve found strength — and seemingly a winning formula for victory — in playing team basketball.
Junior forward Lucas St. George followed the sharpshooting Rellez with 13 points, including a breakaway two-handed dunk that thrilled the Waiakea fans. Junior guard Maikai Gahan had 13 points, including three 3-pointers, and teamed with junior point guard Bryson Ita and Rellez to effectively handled the Vikings’ fullcourt press.
Once past the Hilo press, the Warriors spread the floor and ran a halfcourt offense that moved the ball from side to side and led to either a quality perimeter shot or one close to the basket with either the high-rising St. George or 6-3 senior Owen Sandstrom attacking the rim.
“Our coaches really helped us out by giving up schemes to follow and asking us to share the ball,” said Gahan, who’s one of the Warriors’ most improved players this season.
“Our teamwork was really good tonight and we kept our composure. Our goal coming into tonight and the rest of the regular season is to control our own destiny. If we can win out, we’ll do that and get the top seed (from the East Division).”
Waiakea led 15-13 at the end of the first period and 28-22 at the intermission. St. George and Rellez scored 10 and eight points, respectively, in the half to keep the hosts in the lead. Junior point guard Austin Dante topped Hilo with 11 points, including three 3-pointers.
But the Vikings also weren’t at full physical strength. High-scoring junior Jodd Carter had an injured leg and tried to battle through it. He started but struggled throughout the evening and finished with a season-low two points.
Hilo did get a spark from talented junior Jalen Carvalho, who returned to action after sitting out a month with a foot injury. He started the second quarter and scored five points, including a trey. But he dinged his foot in the third quarter on a drive to the basket and sat out the rest of the game.
Still, the Vikings hung tough and outscored the hosts 9-4 in the third period, pulling to within 32-31. And they continued to battle through the final quarter, trailing only 39-38 with 4:38 remaining. But that’s when Rellez, Gahan and Ita started to drain free throws when Hilo was called for a foul — the visitors lost four players in the hard-fought contest via five fouls.
Rellez hit his first two charity shots at the 4:31 mark to lift Waiakea on top 41-38. Then after the big-hearted Carter scored on a drive for his only basket of the night, Gahan, Sandstrom and Ita combined to make 5 of 6 free throws to give the Warriors a 46-40 advantage with 1:43 left.
Senior Kamu Patnaude, who provided Hilo coach Jason Mandaquit with a second-half spark off the bench, hit a layup to slice the Waiakea margin to 46-42 and junior teammate Hoku Mattos banked in a turnaround jumper at 1:00 to help the visitors creep to within 46-44.
But the Vikings lost senior Jacob Genegabus on five fouls at :38 and both Genegabus and Sandstrom were called for technicals on the play. Sandstrom made one of two foul shots and Genegabus the same on the technical foul in the rare situation when both players shot first and then headed to their respective benches with five fouls.
Rellez then stepped to the line for the technical foul against Hilo and swished a pair to give the Warriors a 49-45 lead.
Then after a Viking miss, Rellez was fouled again and drilled two more shots at :34 to stretch the lead to 50-45.
St. George added a free throw at :23 before Rellez stamped a capital “W” on the big win with four straight free throws to close out the comfortable evening for the Warriors.
Dante finished with a team-high 16 points, including four treys, to lead Hilo. Junior forward Drew Kell, who had a game-high nine rebounds, and Carvalho each followed with five points.
“We’re happy with the outcome,” Waiakea co-coach Henry Miranda said. “We controlled the ball and were patient. We had good shot selection.
“Hilo’s a strong team, but they lost their composure.”
Co-coach Eric Yoshimura agreed about the Warriors playing solid team basketball to earn the win.
“There were a lot of emotions in the game,” he said. “But we were able to stay composed and battle through it.
“It’s a good win but the season is a long way from being over. Anything can happen and we just need to continue playing team basketball and see what happens.”
For the Vikings, who had trouble against Waiakea’s zone defense, they need to get healthy and continue to battle for a high seed in the BIIF’s upcoming Division I playoffs. They have two losses with five games to play and like Yoshimura said, anything can happen the rest of the way.
Kamehameha, which beat St. Joseph on Monday night, is 4-2 and still must play Hilo and Waiakea again.
In junior-varsity action, Waiakea defeated Hilo 34-29 behind 14 points from Marc Ferreira and eight from Brandon Tomota. Trevor Castro led the Vikings with nine points.
Hilo 13 9 9 14 — 45
Waiakea 15 13 4 23 — 55
In other BIIF games Monday night, it was: Konawaena 63, Honokaa 31; Pahoa 51, Ka’u 26; and Hawaii Prep 73, Laupahoehoe 31. Results from the Kamehameha-St. Joseph game were not reported.
• Konawaena 63, Honokaa 31: At Kealakekua, Trevor Tanaka scored 15 points, Nick Mims 14 and Kenan Gaspar 13 to lead the D-I Wildcats (6-0).
Keanu Freitas scored eight points to lead the D-II Dragons (3-3).
In JV play, Konawaena edged Honokaa 33-32 on Kevin Medeiros’ game-winner at the buzzer.
Honokaa 4 10 10 7 — 31
Konawaena 19 17 12 15 — 63
• Pahoa 51, Ka’u 26: At Pahoa, senior guard Nick Fisher scored 17 points to lead the Daggers (3-3) in a D-II game.
Kihei Serrao scored 12 points to lead the Trojans (1-6).
Pahoa won the JV game 52-31.
Ka’u 9 6 5 6—26
Pahoa 12 18 16 5— 51
• Hawaii Prep 73, Laupahoehoe 31: Junior Buck Thomas scored a game-high 22 points and senior Juan Yarawamai added 17 as the D-II Ka Makani won their third straight game.
Junior Kenji Sinson had 13 points for HPA (4-2).
Senior Keanu Domingo led the D-II Seasiders (0-7) with 10 points and junior Ronnie Domingo and freshman Kysen Datuin posted seven points apiece.
Hawaii Prep 26 16 21 10 — 73
Laupahoehoe 7 5 13 6 —31