By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Alexis Pana scored a game-high 17 points and combined with fellow freshman Sharlei Graham-Bernisto for 11 steals to energize a ferocious Hilo press in the final quarter to rally the Vikings past rival Waiakea 37-33 on Thursday night at Kawananakoa Gym.
The Big Island Interscholastic Federation girls Division I basketball game — the season opener for both teams — looked like the Indy 500 at times with cars with no brakes. The hectic, full-court tempo produced a combined 58 turnovers as the young Vikings turned the ball over 25 times and the young Warriors had 33 miscues.
But in the fourth quarter with the game still hanging in the balance, the cat-quick Pana and the hummingbird-quick Graham-Bernisto made the hustling defensive plays to spark a clutch rally that saw Hilo outscore Waiakea 17-8 in the final eight minutes.
The Warriors, under veteran head coach Grant Kauhi, led 11-3 at the end of the first period and 15-9 at the intermission. They built the lead by being patient against the Vikings’ aggressive press and when cold-shooting Hilo missed, senior Sefulu Faavae or junior Shaila Apele grabbed the rebound.
But the Vikings regrouped at halftime and head coach Ben Pana instructed his young squad to push the pedal to the metal on the press.
“The coaches reminded the girls that defense will keep us in the game even if we’re not shooting the ball very well,” Pana said. “We didn’t bring our A game tonight on offense, but our defense really picked us up in the second half. And give Sharlei credit. She’s the smallest player on our team but she contributes big with her defense. When her teammates see her play all out like that, it sparks them to play harder, too.”
In the third quarter, the Vikings outscored Waiakea 11-10 to pull to within 25-20, setting the stage for the Indy 500 finish for the hosts in the final period.
Alexis Pana opened the quarter with a driving layup to slice the Warrior lead to 25-22. Then the 5-foot-1 Graham-Bernisto stole the ball and hit a layup to make it 25-24.
The Viking defense also seemed to finally be wearing down Waiakea and Aliyah Pana, Alexis’ older sister — a mature junior, stole a pass and scored to lift Hilo on top 26-25 with 6:58 remaining. Alexis, a 5-foot-9 point guard, then grabbed a rebound and banked it in for a 28-25 advantage at the 5:55 mark.
Apele, who had a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with four steals, answered with a basket for Waiakea, cutting the Viking lead to 28-27. But on Hilo’s next possession, the multi-talented Faavae picked up her fourth foul and that caused her to be a little less aggressive against the Vikings’ attacking offense.
Junior Vanessa Ignacio hit a layup to give Waiakea a 29-28 lead with 4:24 left. But Alexis Pana then drove to the basket and Faavae was called for her fifth foul and headed to the bench. Pana made the second of two free throws to tie the score at 29-29 at 4:03.
Sophomore guard Kaydee Rapozo, who had a rock-solid all-round performance, made a layup at the 2:43 mark to give Waiakea its last lead, at 31-29.
At 1:52, Aliyah Pana nailed a layup to tie it at 31-31 and that roadrunner Graham-Bernisto stole the ball again and scored to give Hilo a 33-31 advantage with 1:45 left. Alexis Pana then stole the ball and scored on a drive to make it 35-31 at 1:22.
Apele’s putback at 1:09 chopped the Vikings lead to 35-33 and Hilo opted to take some time off the clock on its next possession. Aliyah Pana, a 5-8 forward, was fouled at :24 and made one of two free throws for a 36-33 cushion.
The Warriors looked for a game-tying 3-pointer but turned the ball over and an exhausted Alexis Pana hit one of two charity shots at :04 to give the Vikings a 37-33 advantage and close scoring.
Alexis Pana scored 12 of her game-high 17 points in the second half. She also finished with a game-high six steals and three assists. Graham-Bernisto had seven points and five steals while Aliyah Pana (4 steals) and freshman Shalyn Guthier each added six points.
Apele, a 5-9 power forward with a soft touch, led Waiakea with 12 points. Faavae, who kept the Warriors in the game with her sterling all-around play before fouling out, and sophomore Nicole Antonio each added six points. Rapozo finished with five — a nifty pull-up jumper and 3-pointer, all in the first half. The visitors also got a good effort from senior Keani Shirai, who helped Faavae, Rapozo and Antonio effectively handle the ball against Hilo’s press through three quarters.
Faavae also had nine rebounds, two blocked shots and four steals on the night.
“At the end of the game, Hilo outplayed us,” Kauhi said. “When we lost Sefulu (Faavae) and Keani (Shirai), we played into Hilo’s hands. We rushed and had plenty of turnovers. We’ll have to chalk this up as a learning experience and hope to do better next time.
“We’re like Hilo, a young team. But I told my girls tonight, both teams are really young so there are no excuses. We just have to keep getting better.”
Ben Pana praised the Warriors’ effort.
“Waiakea played smart, they were patient and controlled the tempo for awhile,” he said. “But I’m really pleased with our second-half defense. Our girls really wanted it in the end and never quit. They played really tough defense and in the fourth quarter, the pressure really paid off.”
At Kawananakoa Gym
Waiakea 11 4 10 8 — 33
Hilo 3 6 11 17 — 37
In other season openers Thursday, it was: Keaau 51, Pahoa 32; Hawaii Prep 34, Kealakehe 30; and Kamehameha 64, Ka’u 29. Honokaa at Kohala was not reported.
• Kamehameha 64, Ka’u 29: At Pahala, junior Casey Poe scored a game-high 16 points for the defending Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II champion Warriors in the season opener for both teams.
Shyann Flores led the Trojans with six points, while Casey Koi and Denisha Navarro added four apiece.
• Keaau 50, Pahoa 33: At Pahoa, Maedina Ongais-Kilaulani scored 16 points and Taylor Pocock 11 to lead the D-I Cougars (1-0) over the D-II Daggers (0-1).
Macey Mokuhalii and Randi Berinobis each had 11 points for Pahoa.
Keaau 17 10 12 11 — 50
Pahoa 11 12 4 6 — 33
• HPA 34, Kealakehe 30: At Kailua, sophomore forward Ula Brostek scored a game-high 12 points, and sophomore forward Anna Juan added 10 points for the visiting Ka Makani, which led 20-12 at halftime before holding on at the end in the season opener for both teams. Kehau Lee scored a team-high 10 points for the Waveriders.
HPA 12 8 8 6 — 34
Kealakehe 6 6 9 9 — 30
In junior-varsity action, Hilo defeated Waiakea 47-12; Pahoa 51, Keaau 32; Kamehameha 40, Ka’u 27.
High scorers — Hilo: Cierra Kelii, 15; Faith Loeak, 13. Waiakea: Mikala Martinez, 6. Pahoa: Ema Tua, 14; Makela Rincon, 12; Shiella Natividad, 10. Keaau: Kanoelani Maka, 12.