By J.R. De GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
WAIMEA — Junior point guard Justas Gecas scored 14 points to lead Hawaii Preparatory Academy to a 50-42 win over University High in a Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament play-in game Monday at Castle Gym.
With the win, HPA advances to play in the first round of the HHSAA boys Division II basketball tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday in Honolulu.
The tournament’s official bracket is expected to be announced today. Ka Makani join Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion Kohala in the state D-II tournament field. The Cowboys defeated HPA 67-53 in the league finale on Saturday at Hilo Civic.
“This win is a good thing not just for us, but for the BIIF,” HPA co-head coach Fred Wawner said.
“We wanted to represent our conference. We have a good conference and we deserve to have two teams going over to the tournament every year. I’m excited for the kids, and now we get to go represent our island.”
Anthony Canecia led University, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu’s third-place finisher, with 15 points.
Ka Makani used a 21-point second quarter to gain a stranglehold on the visiting Junior Bows, and coupled the offensive output with a stifling defense. Led by big men Evaldas Vegertas, Nicky Palleshi and David Ovbagbedia, HPA allowed only 13 first half points and just a single basket from inside of the paint.
It was a well balanced attack for HPA, which was playing without senior star Kalan Camero. Camero missed a second-straight game after suffering a concussion in the BIIF semifinals last Friday at the Civic. Vertgas, Hide Akai and Kenji Stinson all contributed eight points to the Ka Makani total, while Ovbagbedia added 10 points and seven rebounds.
“It’s been really hard and we haven’t had any time to really talk about it,” said Wawner of losing his senior leader.
“Kalan does so much more for us than what you can see on the court. He’s irreplaceable in that sense.We felt like we had to survive today. Tomorrow (today) we can talk about what we will do going forward.”
Despite not having Camero, HPA bounced back from the loss to Kohala in the BIIF championship game, and seemed to adjust a little better to life without Camero.
“If there was one thing that we could say got away from us in the BIIF championship it was our post game,” Wawner said. “We had more of a meeting than a practice Sunday and we came to the conclusion that it has to be our identity to play this way. It enabled us to be successful.
“We were a little fragile emotionally, so I would have to say everyone stepped up. Our big guys stepped up down there and hammered away. It was not always pretty but the fact that they get so much attention frees up our guards.”