By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
If championship games are milestones to remember, both Hilo and Kohala can look back on the 2012 Cardinal Basketball Classic final as a marathon, filled with fouls, a combined 100 free throws, and a 32-minute contest that took over two hours to complete.
And once the final buzzer sounded at Hilo Armory, the young-and-talented Vikings had fought their way to an 82-65 win over the scrappy Division II Cowboys, leaving the fans and players exhausted from the wild physical play and limitless whistles.
The Viking boys finished the evening hitting 31 of 58 free throws, including 19 of 36 in the second half. The Cowboys made 22 of 42 free throws, including 17 of 29 in the final half. That meant the teams combined to shoot 100 free throws in 32 minutes, making 53.
Hilo, under coach Jason Mandaquit, started fast and led 21-10 at the end of the first quarter and 45-19 at the intermission. The Vikings accomplished the feat by playing outstanding pressure defense and a share-the-ball attack to frustrate the young Cowboys. But in the second half and with Viking reserves playing much of the way, Kohala rallied and slashed what had been a 28-point Hilo lead in the second period to 17 with 1:26 left in the contest at 79-62.
Regardless of what happened along the way, both Mandaquit and veteran Kohala coach Don Ferandez found reasons to smile and look forward to the rest of the preseason and what should be highly competitive Big Island Interscholastic Federation D-I and II title races.
“Championships are not won in the preseason,” said Fernandez, who led the Cowboys to a BIIF runner-up finish last year and a state-tournament berth. “We have a young team, a lot of new faces, but I feel really good about this team — I’m excited big time. This team has a lot of potential if the boys will believe in the system.”
Fernandez liked the opportunity of taking on the athletic Vikings, a team that is expected to be the favorite in the BIIF’s D-I title chase this season.
“I’m glad we played Hilo,” he said. “It’s good to play against their pressure. My team is a work in progress. We’re learning each other and the style we want to play. We just have to play more consistent. I’m a little disappointed with our defense tonight, especially in the first half. We got frustrated, but we played much better in the second half.”
The Cowboys, with four seniors, one junior and five sophomores on their 10-man roster, are expected to challenge defending champion Hawaii Preparatory Academy, Pahoa, Honokaa and Ka’u in a competitive D-II race.
“It’s wide open this year,” Fernandez said. “It’s going to be real competitive. But for us, we just want to keep getting better every day and peak at the right time of the season.”
This week, Kohala will play in the 14-team Waiakea/Keaau preseason tournament and Fernandez is eager for the challenge.
“There are a lot of tough teams and we just want to get better,” the Cowboys coach said.
For the second straight night, Mandaquit stuck with his regular rotation and got his bench reinforcements plenty of game experience, playing the second string most of the second half against a solid Kohala squad.
“I’m happy with how things went,” the Vikings coach said. “In the first half, I tried to use my regular rotation — the starters and the guys who know the system. I thought they played well. But throughout the game and especially in the second half, I got to play a lot of other guys and it was a good experience for them.
“Kohala is athletic and applies a lot of pressure. They challenged us and that helps us improve.”
Hilo’s starters played about half the game. High-scoring junior Jalen Carvalho led the way with a game-high 19 points, including a trey. Point guard Austin Dante had 12 points and six assists, senior Kian Kurokawa had nine points and junior guard Jodd Carter chipped in with eight points.
Sophomore guard Kealen Figueroa topped Kohala with 18 points. Senior Makani Kualii had 13 and sophomore Hana Carvalho contributed 12. Sharpshooting senior guard Kala’l Salis Kapeliela was harassed by Hilo’s defense throughout the game and finished with just six points — and a rarity for him, no 3-pointers.
In earlier games Saturday at Hilo Armory, Ka’u beat the Hilo JV 54-37 for third place and host St. Joseph topped the HPA JV 33-21 for fifth.
In Friday’s opening round, Hilo defeated Ka’u 65-34, Kohala topped St. Joseph 57-15 and Hilo JV downed HPA JV 49-26.
At Hilo Armory
Kohala 10 9 21 25 — 65
Hilo 21 24 17 20 — 82
• Ka’u 54, Hilo JV 37: Donald Garo and Alejo each scored 12 points to lead the Trojans in the third place game.
Sione Atvekaho led the young Vikings with 10 points and added eight rebounds.
Hilo JV 6 8 10 13 — 37
Ka’u 15 17 12 10 — 54
• St. Joseph 33, HPA JV 21: Ben Uhlmann scored 24 points to lead the young Cardinals to a win in the fifth place game.
Victor Lee led the Ka Makani with 11 points and Eiji Tomita had eight.
HPA JV 8 5 2 6 — 21
St. Joe 10 13 2 8 — 33
Tourneys on tap
The 14-team Waiakea/Keaau Boys Basketball Tournament will run Wednesday through Saturday at the two high school gyms.
In first-round games Wednesday at Waiakea, it’s Waiakea 2 vs. Honokaa at 3 p.m., St. Joseph vs. Kealakehe at 4:30 p.m., Hilo vs. Kalaheo at 6 p.m. and Waiakea vs. Hawaii Prep at 7:30 p.m.
In first-round games Wednesday at Keaau, it’s Keaau 2 vs. Kohala at 3 p.m., Konawaena vs. Pahoa at 4:30 p.m., Kalani vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii at 6 p.m. and Keaau vs. Ka’u at 7:30 p.m.
The 39th Laupahoehoe Boys Junior Varsity Basketball Tournament will be held Wednesday through Friday at the Seasiders Gym.