By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
One thing is certain about this year’s young Hilo High School’s girls basketball team: If the game is close and someone needs to step up big, junior Aliyah Pana will be the first Viking to flex her biceps.
On Saturday night, Pana led Hilo to a hard-fought 64-56 win over defending Division II champion Kamehameha — in a high-intensity thriller that was played before about 300 pumped-up fans at Kawananakoa Gym.
Both young-and-talented teams took their best shots at each other in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation contest. Hilo (4-0) led 18-10 after the first quarter, 30-26 at the intermission and 50-44 through three periods.
But the Warriors (3-1) never backed down behind the terrific play of sophomore Riana Arima (22 points), senior Namele Naipo-Arsiga (16 points) and junior Casey Poe (9 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals) to stay with the hustling hosts until midway through the final quarter.
Arima, a high-scoring 5-foot-8 guard, hit the second of two free throws with 5:18 remaining in the game to tie the score at 51-51.
However, that’s when the 5-8 Pana stepped up and during a two-minute span, she grabbed two rebounds, had two steals and scored twice on driving layups to spark the Vikings to a 6-1 run as the hosts took a 57-52 lead with 3:05 left.
Kamehameha sliced the cushion to 57-54 on Poe’s steal and layup at the 2:16 mark. But Hilo spread the court on offense and promising freshman Sharlei Bernisto-Graham drove for a layup at 1:21 to give the Vikings a 59-54 advantage.
Then after the Warriors misfired on offense, Pana was fouled on back-to-back possessions and made four straight free throws to extend the Hilo lead to 63-54 with :50 remaining and basically put the victory on ice.
Pana finished with 19 points, including nine in the fourth period with the game on the line.
“Aliyah is our leader, hands down,” said Ben Pana, the Vikings head coach and Aliyah’s father. “She takes the pressure off the other girls and they look to her for leadership. She calms them down and they follow her.
“Tonight, she also hit some big free throws down the stretch when we needed them.”
The young Pana went to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter with a positive feeling.
“I knew had to make the free throws for my team,” she said. “When I went to the line and made the first one, it brought my confidence up.”
The steady junior, who also had seven rebounds, four steals and three assists on the night, knew the Vikings needed to slow the tempo down on offense in the final quarter.
“We knew the time was on our side,” Pana said. “We were ahead and didn’t need to score more. We just needed to protect the ball and make our free throws.”
The slender Viking also liked the strong challenge that Kamehameha gave them.
“Playing them, it brought up the intensity level for the whole game,” she said. “We played at our pace and it was fun to watch how the crowd got pumped up.”
Ben Pana also praised the visiting Warriors.
“Kamehameha came to play tonight,” the Hilo coach said. “We knew it was going to be tough challenge. Every time we play them, it’s going to be an awesome game.
“I’m proud of how Aliyah played tonight, and I’m proud of how all of our girls played.”
Freshman Shalyn Guthier followed Aliyah Pana with 12 points and a steady all-around game, playing tough defense and rebounding. Sophomore Chailey Cabalis had 10 points, all in the first half to help spark the Vikings’ offense. Freshman point guard Alexis Pana, Aliyah’s younger sister, and freshman Cierra Kelii each added six points.
Bernisto-Graham, Hilo’s quick pickpocket on defense, finished with five steals in her specialty.
The 5-9 Alexis Pana also had seven rebounds and three assists.
Riana Arima, the daughter of Kamehameha head coach Garrett Arima, scored 14 of her game-high 22 points in the second half. She also had five rebounds, six steals and three assists to terrorize the Vikings.
Naipo-Arsiga, who moved to point guard this season, poured in 11 of her 16 points in the first half and handled the ball well against Hilo’s vicious fullcourt press.
“This was one of Namele’s best games in her career,” coach Arima said. “She’s really coming along and learning how to play the point. She did a really nice job for us tonight.”
Poe, a 5-10 forward, helped keep the Warriors close throughout the evening with her rock-solid all-around play. But Kamehameha also got a lift from sophomore Chyann “Maka” Gabriel and freshman southpaw Caitlin Poe as the visitors hung tough against a quality opponent.
The 5-6 Caitlin Poe, the younger sister of Casey, showed the potential to be an excellent high school player during her career at the private school in Keaau. She has a high basketball IQ and just needs to get stronger and gain varsity experience to keep improving and help the Warriors this year.
Garrett Arima felt his team played possibly its best game of the season.
“Hilo High is a good team,” he said. “We played a solid first half against them and tried to make some adjustments. In the second half, we tried to keep them in front of us and not give up too many easy baskets. We did a better job in the second half.
“Give Hilo credit. We knew we would have to play possession basketball and make our free throws in the end to have a chance at winning. But Hilo just did a better job than we did down the stretch. Hilo High is a quality team.”
The Warriors coach called the game a “tough loss, but one we can learn from.”
“We still need to work hard on a lot of things and get better,” Arima said. “But we have a young team and the girls need to come out and play with confidence, and get that game experience. Tonight, there were a lot of teachable moments.”
In junior-varsity action, Hilo ran past Kamehameha 51-12. Katie Loeak had 20 points and Sydnee Yokota had 16. Kyla Aguiar led the Warriors with seven points.
Kamehameha 10 16 18 12 — 56
Hilo 18 12 20 14 — 64
In other girls games Saturday, it was: Honokaa 64, Hawaii Prep 27; Waiakea 71, Pahoa 24; and Keaau at Ka’u was not reported by the Tribune-Herald deadline.
In the lone boys game, Kohala defeated Laupahoehoe 63-29.
• Waiakea 71, Pahoa 24: Junior Shaila Apele led four Warriors in double figures with 18 points as host Waiakea cruised to its third straight victory.
Senior Zena Kiyota added 17 points for the Warriors (3-2), sophomore Nicole Antonio had 13 and sophomore Kaydee Rapozo chipped in with 11.
Sophomore Macey Mokuhalii led the Daggers (0-5) with 14 points.
In the JV game, Elyse Hasegawa scored 19 points as Waiakea won 49-11.
Pahoa 8 8 6 2 — 24
Waiakea 12 28 17 14—71
Kohala 63, Laupahoehoe 29: Sophomore Mikala Jordan scored a game-high 16 points as the visiting Cowboys ran their record to 3-0.
Seniors Kala’i Salis-Kapeliela and Makani Kualii and sophomore Hana Caravalho scored nine points apiece for first-place Kohala.
Junior Collin Lodivero led the Seasiders (0-4) with eight points.
Kohala 24 23 11 5—63
Laupahoehoe 9 6 6 8 —29
The BIIF has announced the league’s playoff format for this season.
In both boys and girls Division I and II, six teams advance to the playoffs.
In boys D-I, the East and West top seeds will draw first-round byes on Feb. 13 while East No. 2 hosts East No. 4 and West No. 2 hosts East No. 3 that evening.
In the semifinals on Feb. 15 at Hilo Civic, West No. 1 will battle the East No. 4/No. 2 winner, followed by East No. 1 vs. the East No. 3/West No. 2 winner.
In the final on Feb. 16 at Hilo Civic, the semifinal winners meet for the D-I championship. Kamehameha is the defending BIIF champion.
In boys D-II, the East No. 1 seed and West No. 1 seed draw first-round byes on Feb. 13 while East No. 2 hosts West No. 3 and West No. 2 hosts East No. 3.
In the semifinals on Feb. 15 at Hilo Civic, West No. 1 will face the West No. 3/East No. 2 winner, followed by East No. 1 vs. the East No. 3/West No. 2 winner.
In the final on Feb. 16 at Hilo Civic, the semifinal winners will battle for the league title. Hawaii Prep is the defending BIIF champion.
The BIIF has been awarded two boys berths in the state D-I tournament (12 teams) and D-II tournament (8 teams), which will run concurrently Feb. 20-23 on Oahu.
In girls D-I, the East and West top seeds will draw first-round byes on Jan. 30 while East No. 2 hosts East No. 4 and West No. 2 hosts East No. 3 play that evening.
In the semifinals on Feb. 1 at Kealakehe, West No. 1 will battle the East No. 4/No. 2 winner, followed by East No. 1 vs. the East No. 3/West No. 2 winner.
In the final on Feb. 2 at Kealakehe, the semifinal winners meet for the D-I championship. Konawaena is the defending BIIF and state champion.
In girls D-II, the East No. 1 seed and West No. 1 seed draw first-round byes on Jan. 30 while East No. 2 hosts West No. 3 and West No. 2 hosts East No. 3.
In the semifinals Feb. 1 at Kealakehe, West No. 1 will meet the West No. 3/East No. 2 winner, followed by East No. 1 vs. the East No. 3/West No. 2 winner.
In the final on Feb. 2 at Kealakehe, the semifinal winners will battle for the league crown. Kamehameha is the defending BIIF and state champion.
The BIIF has been awarded two girls berths in the state D-I tournament (12 teams) and three berths in the state D-II tournament (12 teams). They will run concurrently, Feb. 6-9 on Oahu.