By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
At the high school level, coaching plays a big role in the success of a team. And if the Waiakea and Keaau boys basketball coaches can use Saturday night’s game as a teachable lesson, good things might happen for their teams as they battle for seedings in next month’s league tournament.
The host Warriors (5-1) survived a late rush by the Cougars to edge the visitors 41-38 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I game at the Warrior Gym.
But what started out like a Waiakea romp turned into a scary fourth period for the Warriors when the hustling Cougars (3-3) pulled to within a point at 33-32 with 4:30 remaining. The visitors then had three or four opportunities to take the lead with a timely 3-pointer down the stretch but couldn’t drain one until :02 left when Chaney Simeon-Paulino’s rainbow trey swished to close the scoring.
“We were coming off a bad loss to Hilo,” Keaau coach Mark Kawaha said. “We told the boys to keep it simple tonight and be aggressive. But we started out really slow and our boys stuck to the offense. Once they relaxed and moved the ball, we did much better.”
Waiakea raced to a 10-3 lead behind seven points from 6-foot-3 junior Lucas St. George and ended the first quarter on a Dillon Rellez 3-pointer and Maikai Gahan layup to extend the lead to 15-3.
However, what seemed like a potential blowout quickly turned into a pitbull battle the rest of the way. The Cougars outscored the Warriors 9-4 in the second period and trailed 19-12 at the intermission.
“We tried to make some adjustments at halftime and attack their zone a little better,” Kawaha said. “We wanted to be more aggressive on offense and attack when the opportunities came up.”
Keaau outpointed Waiakea 14-12 in the third quarter and trailed 31-26 heading into the final period.
In the fourth quarter, Keaau sophomore Davin Alviento stole the ball and hit a layup to make it 31-28. But Waiakea senior Owen Sandstrom answered with a 12-foot jumper to lift the hosts on top 33-28 with 5:23 left. The Cougars then inched to within 33-32 on two free throws from Simeon-Paulino and a driving layup by Nick Pagtama.
Waiakea co-coaches Henry Miranda and Eric Yoshimura then called time out to settle down their young squad.
The talented Rellez, a junior guard/forward, followed with a clutch 17-foot jumpshot to make it 35-32 at the 3:35 mark, and then added a 14-foot jumper at 2:12 to stretch the Warriors’ cushion to 37-32.
Still, the Cougars weren’t finished, and 6-2 senior Sean Stone scored on an old-fashion three-point play inside to pull Keaau to within 37-35 with 1:51 left.
The Cougars got the ball back on a Waiakea turnover at 1:29 and couldn’t hit a shot. Then when junior point guard Bryson Ita was injured on a rebound with 29 remaining seconds, sophomore Marc Pacris came off the bench to replace him.
Keaau clamped on the fullcourt press and when Pacris caught the ball near midcourt, he dribbled all the way to the basket and scored on a layup to give the Warriors a 39-35 advantage.
The Cougars couldn’t score on their next possession and they fouled Rellez, one of the BIIF’s top free-throw shooter. He went to the line and sank both charity shots to make it 41-35 with :17 left.
That set the stage for Simeon-Paulino’s high-arcing 3-pointer at :02, pulling Keaau to within three points as time ran out.
Rellez finished with a game-high 17 points, including six in the fourth period. Gahan added nine points, St. George seven and Sandstrom six.
Stone led the Cougars with 11 points. Simeon-Paulino had seven and junior Charlie Belmes added six on a pair of line-drive 3-pointers.
“I’m happy with how we played, and we never quit,” Kawaha said. “We’ve gotten a lot better from the preseason and want to be peaking when the playoffs come. If we can be playing well at that time, anything can happen.”
That’s something Miranda and Yoshimura must have been telling their Warriors after the close win. They talked to the team for more than 20 minutes after the game and were not available for comment.
Last week, Waiakea upset Hilo with a strong team effort and all-out hustle throughout the 32-minute game. On Saturday against Keaau, the Warriors got out to the quick lead and never showed the same intensity level. That allowed the intense Cougars to rally and almost catch the hosts at the end.
If Saturday night offered Miranda and Yoshimura a teachable lesson with their team, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Warriors host rival Hilo (5-1) on Monday night with first place in the East Division on the line. And it’s pretty obvious that Waiakea will need 32 minutes of defensive intensity and to play better on offense if the Warriors hope to beat the talented Vikings again.
In the junior varsity game, Waiakea topped Keaau 53-35. Marc Ferreira led the Warriors with 16 points and Kellen Goya had 11. Charles Caldwell-Kaai, 10.
Keaau 3 9 14 12 — 38
Waiakea 15 4 12 10 — 41
In other BIIF games Saturday, it was: Konawaena 74, Kohala 53 and Hawaii Prep 61, Honokaa 39.
• Konawaena 74, Kohala 53: At Kapaau, Jonah Bredeson scored 20 points, Nicks Mims 17 and Brenton Shropshire 13 to lead the West Division-leading D-I Wildcats (5-0).
Justin Agbayani scored 17 points, Cameron Caravalho-Chinen 11 and Mikala Jordan 10 to lead the D-II Cowboys (3-2).
In the JV game, Konawaena topped Kohala 49-29. Kevin Medeiros led the Wildcats with 22 points. Kainalu Emeliano-Solomon led the Cowboys with nine.
Konawaena 17 14 21 22 — 74
Kohala 6 19 9 19 — 53
• Hawaii Prep 61, Honokaa 39: At Waimea, senior Jovan Crnic scored 18 points to lead the D-II Ka Makani (3-2).
Isaiah Meyer scored 18 points to lead the D-II Dragons (3-2).
In JV play, Honokaa defeated Hawaii Prep 45-36 behind 22 points from Shyrome Batin. Colin Yates led the hosts with 18 points.
Honokaa 8 5 7 19 — 39
Hawaii Prep 11 13 17 20 — 61
Girls playoffs correction
With only five teams in girls Division I girls this season, the top two teams in the final regular season standings from both the East and West divisions advance to the four-team BIIF tournament. There will be no play-in game, according to Ka’u athletic director Kalei Namohala, the league’s basketball coordinator.
The D-I playoff semifinals and final will be held Feb. 1-2 at the Kealakehe High gym. On Feb. 1, the East No. 1 seed will play the West No. 2 seed at 6 p.m., followed by the West No. 1 seed against the East No. 2 seed at 7:30. The semifinal winners will then battle at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 in the title game.
The BIIF champion and runner-up will earn berths in the 12-team state D-I tournament on Oahu, scheduled Feb. 6-9.