By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
If a team was rewarded a win for all-out hustle through a 32-minute game, Keaau would still be alive in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I basketball playoffs and young-but-talented Waiakea would be finished for the season.
However, juniors Dillon Rellez, Maikai Gahan and Bryson Ita came through with some clutch points in a tight fourth quarter to help Waiakea hold off scrappy Keaau 43-42 in a first round D-I playoff game Wednesday night at the Warriors Gym.
Rellez scored nine of his game-high 15 points in the final period, including a pair of 3-pointers; Gahan had four points before leaving with a back injury at the 2:32 mark after hitting a layup and falling hard to the floor; and Ita added four points, including two free throws with :18 remaining to give Waiakea a 43-40 lead.
The Cougars missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but junior Charlie Belmes was fouled and only hit two of the three free throws as the Warriors (10-3) survived an upset.
The game’s final outcome, however, didn’t turn on Belmes’ free throws. The Cougars, under head coach Mark Kawaha, played like there was no tomorrow — and actually, there was no tomorrow if they lost. But the visitors outrebounded the taller Warriors, played more aggressive defense, and came up with almost every loose ball.
The Cougars’ inability to knock down shots in the second half when they had a chance to build a lead on Waiakea stung their upset hopes. And the Warriors’ shaky free-throw line in the fourth quarter didn’t help the hosts either. Waiakea made just 1 of 8 free throws in the period before Ita drained his two biggies at :18 to provide the winning margin.
“Keaau came to play,” Waiakea co-coach Henry Miranda said. “They executed well and they beat us in transition. But I thought we could win the game at the free-throw line. We just didn’t shoot free throws very well tonight.”
The Cougars led 7-6 at the end of the first quarter and the score was tied 19-19 at the intermission. The Warriors then outpointed the visitors 7-6 in the third period before each team poured in 17 points over the final eight minutes.
“We had a lot of breakdowns on defense,” Miranda said. “We have to refocus on defense for Friday.”
For Waiakea, junior Lucas St. George followed Ita with eight points to go along with two rebounds and four steals. Senior Owen Sandstrom had four points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Senior guard Davin Alviento led Keaau with 12 points, junior Edgar Ventura had 11 and senior Chaney Simeon-Paulino added eight. Senior center Sean Stone had three points, a game-high 10 rebounds and three steals.
“I thought we played good defense and rebounded well tonight,” Kawaha said. “Our kids played hard and never quit. I’m proud of their effort.”
In the other first round D-I playoff game, East No. 3 seed Kamehameha edged West No. 2 Kealakehe 57-56 on Laa Manliguis’ tip-in at the buzzer in a thriller on the Waveriders’ home court.
In the first round D-II playoff games, West No. 2 Kohala ran past East No. 3 St. Joseph 54-13 and West No. 3 Honokaa struggled past fired-up East No. 2 Ka’u 63-54 in overtime.
The D-I and II semifinals and finals will be played Friday and Saturday, respectively, at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
The Warriors will play West No. 1 seed Konawaena (10-0) at 6 p.m. Friday in the BIIF D-I semifinals at Hilo Civic. East No. 1 seed Hilo (10-2) will face Kamehameha (9-4) in the 7:30 p.m. semifinal.
The semifinal winners will claim the league’s two state D-I tournament berths and play for the BIIF title and league’s top seed in the states at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Civic.
The BIIF D-II semifinals will be played at 3 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Civic. The semifinal winners will also clinch the league’s two berths in the state D-II tournament.
The state D-I and II tournaments will run concurrently in Honolulu. The 12-team D-I event will be held Feb. 20-23 and the eight-team D-II tourney on Feb. 21-23.
The first two days of the state D-I tournament will be held at the McKinely and Moanalua gyms; the final two days, at Blaisdell Arena. The first day of the state D-II tourney will be played at the Kaimuki and Kalani gyms; the second day at Kaimuki; and the final day at Blaisdell.
Last year, BIIF champion Kamehameha and runner-up Hilo represented the league in the state D-I tournament while in D-II, BIIF champion Hawaii Prep and runner-up Kohala were the representatives.
Keaau 7 12 6 17 — 42
Waiakea 6 13 7 17 — 43
D-II first round
• Kohala 54, St. Joseph 13: At Kapaau, Makani Kualii scored 16 points and Kala’i Kapeliela 10 to lead West No. 2 Cowboys (7-4).
Edgar Barclay scored four points to lead the East No. 3 Cardinals (0-13).
Kohala, the BIIF runner-up last year, will battle East No. 1 Pahoa (7-5) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the D-II semifinals at Hilo Civic.
The Daggers drew a bye in the first round.
St. Joseph 1 3 9 0 — 13
Kohala 27 4 13 10 — 54
• Honokaa 63, Ka’u 54, OT: At Pahala, Alika Alip scored 23 points, Isaiah Meyers 12 and CJay Carvalho 11 to lead the West No. 3 Dragons (6-5) to a nail-biting victory.
Greg Javar scored 19 points, Royden Esperon 15 and Jansen Candaroma 10 to lead the East No. 2 Trojans (2-11).
Honokaa will meet defending BIIF champion Hawaii Prep (6-4) at 3 p.m. Friday in the D-II semifinals at Hilo Civic.
The West No. 1 seed Ka Makani drew a bye in the first round.
Honokaa 14 10 5 20 14 — 63
Ka’u 9 15 11 14 5 — 54