By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
In contrasting styles, Hawaii Prep stepped on the brakes and played a half-court game, while Honokaa ran like a rabbit and pushed the pace, but in the end the tall turtles won.
The height-laden Ka Makani prevailed over the small-but-quick Dragons 70-63 in the BIIF Division II semifinals on Friday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, pushing aside another opponent to remain unbeaten.
“The kids showed resolve,” HPA co-coach Fred Wawner said. “The kids had to fight, but that’s a situation we’ve been in all year. We not only had resolve but had good possessions at the end.”
In the other semifinal, No. 2 Kohala defeated No. 3 Pahoa 56-32, reaching the BIIF championship for the first time since 2009.
No. 1 seed HPA (12-0) plays Kohala (9-3) for the BIIF championship at 6 p.m. today at Hilo Civic.
Ka Makani will be shooting for their third straight title while the Cowboys will be looking to add their fourth after three in a row from 2007 to ‘09.
The winner earns the league’s lone automatic berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state championships, which will be held Feb. 20-22 on Oahu. The loser hosts a state play-in game against the Interscholastic League of Honolulu’s No. 3 team on Monday.
The season is over for the Dragons (2-10), who shot 49 percent (20 of 41) from the field, but made only 16 of 23 free throws. They lose three senior starters in CJay Carvalho, Nathan Gascon, and Wayne Vaoga.
“I’m really proud of our boys. We had a lot of adversity this season, injuries, guys ineligible,” Honokaa coach Jayme Carvalho said. “I didn’t think their height bothered us. Our game plan was to push the pace. We came together and showed Dragon basketball. Our motto is ‘GID,’ Get it done. We stuck to our game plan and made it a fight.”
CJay Carvalho, Honokaa’s relentless guard, led the way with 20 points, knocking down four 3-pointers, while Kysen Datuin had 12 points and Shyrome Batin and Gascon added 10 points each.
Kalan Camero scored 15 points, sinking three 3-pointers, to spark HPA, which converted 43 percent (21 of 49) from the floor, and relied on height for rebounds or extra shots to draw fouls and buried 24 of 40 free throws.
However, Camero’s production took a backseat to his health. He soared for a rebound, with a 59-47 lead and 7:24 left, got unintentionally undercut by a Dragon, fell on his back, and his head slammed down on the floor.
The hometown 6-foot-1 senior guard from Waimea was prone for five minutes, got up with help and left by ambulance to Hilo Medical Center.
Justas Gecas, from Lithuania, added 10 points, flashing a nice burst and getting a few baskets on dribble-drives against Honokaa’s half-court defense, Kenji Stinson also had 10 points while Kellen Gillins had eight points.
“Justas works his tail off and he’s aggressive,” Wawner said. “And we need that, and good things happen. Kalan is our go-to guy. Before he went out, he hit a couple of jumpers that really settled us. He’s our calm and gives us senior leadership.”
Those are Ka Makani’s short guys. The tall foreign ones were lower in the scoring column: 6-7 Evaldas Vegertas, also from Lithuania, had seven points, and 6-6 David Ovbagbedia, from Nigeria who resembles a college linebacker, had six points.
Nicky Palleschi, a 6-4 junior forward, who did play on HPA’s football team also had seven points, and added to the tough interior defense, which clamped down on Honokaa’s drive-and-dish game.
“There’s a hidden thing with our height,” said Wawner, who’ll never deceive a lie-detector test, when asked the benefit of height. “We ask our big guys to be aggressive. They take up space and work their tails off and shorten the court. With our traps, we’re able to get a few turnovers with our guards. But our big guys really can’t stop dribble-penetration.”
That’s primarily the job of Ka Makani’s rabbits. They’ve got quick guys, too. Not burners like the Dragons, but have enough short-space speed to block off driving lanes.
Before he was injured Camero and Gecas did a solid job fronting Honokaa’s ball-handlers and slowing any dribble-penetration to the rim, and HPA’s bigs were there to clean the glass.
On the opposite end, the taller Ka Makani worked an efficient inside-out game, especially with Vegertas feeding kick-outs to open shooters like Camero, who swished all three treys in the third quarter when the two-time defending BIIF champs took a 57-47 lead into the final eight minutes.
That’s when things got really fun and exciting.
But before that, here’s a brief look at Ka Makani’s tide-turning 24-12 second quarter when they made 11 of 16 free throws. The Dragons were 3 of 6 from the line, and couldn’t stop a post attack that consistently drew fouls and free throws.
“At that time, we were able to get a stop and score and get another stop,” Wawner said. “When we do that, we can play at our pace. I know it felt hectic, but we’re more comfortable scoring in the 60s, not the 70s or 80s.”
In the fourth quarter, Batin drilled a 3-pointer to get the fire-breathing Dragons within 66-60 with 36.6 seconds left. Then HPA’s Stinson was fouled and bricked both free throws.
Suddenly, Ka Makani couldn’t shoot free throws in the fourth quarter, just 3 of 11 at that point; Honokaa went 6 of 8 from the line.
Carvalho welcomed that crack in the door and converted a clutch trey to cut HPA’s lead to 66-63 with 13.2 seconds remaining.
However, HPA found its free-throw shooting touch buried under a rock, and Hide Akai, who had seven points, and Stinson combined to go 4 of 4 from the line to put the semifinal to bed.
“We’ve played so many games like this that we don’t take anything for granted,” Wawner said. “But our kids battled and they made shots.”
Honokaa 14 12 21 16 — 63
HPA 12 24 21 13 — 70