By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hawaii Preparatory Academy co-coach Fred Wawner has three rules of basketball for beating good teams on the road: defense, rebounding and made free throws.
Ka Makani were strong in all three of those facets Friday night, and even when matters started to get away, Kalan Camaro and Justas Gecas simply took over.
The guards combined for 44 points to carry HPA to a 61-53 victory against Hilo at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium on opening night of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation boys regular season.
“This was a big one to get off our chest,” said Camero, a senior shooting guard who scored 16 of his team-high 23 points in the second half. “I’ve got great teammates. It was everybody.”
Gecas, a junior point guard, consistently drove through the lane to get to the basket and made layups to score 13 of his 21 points in the second half.
“We’re starting to do things to win that we didn’t do in the preseason,” Wawner said.
HPA has co-coaches in Wawner and Dave Huntington, and a de facto coach on the floor in Camero, a four-year starter.
“He’s smarter than I am,” Wawner said. “It’s fun for him to be a senior and for us to be able to pull him aside and ask what he thinks.”
Jalen Carvalho scored 24 points and made four 3-pointers for Hilo. Austin Dante added 13.
“They hurt on us the boards with their size,” Hilo coach Chuck Vallero said. “I still think my guys are disciplined. We’re trying to build our inside game. It’s coming along.”
For all of its length — two-time defending BIIF Division II champion HPA rotated four post players who were all at least 6 foot, 4 inches — it was guard play that put Ka Makani over the top against the Division I Vikings.
Kellen Gillins’ free throw gave HPA the lead for good at 26-25 early in the third quarter, and then Camero and Gecas combined to score their team’s next 26 points as it kept Hilo at arm’s length. Ka Makani converted on enough of their free throws during a 23-point fourth-quarter.
“(Camero) was a real problem for us,” Vallero said. “We put somebody in his face, but he always seemed to get open.”
Often during that stretch, the guard duo came up with what Wawner likes to refer to as championship possessions. Camero found Gecas for a driving layup and then hit one of his three 3-pointers and followed that up by making two free throws during a 7-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters that gave HPA its largest lead of the game, 40-31.
“When things got down to it, we ran our plays, set good screens and we put the ball in the bucket,” Camero said.
HPA got just enough offensively from its inside game. Nicky Palleschi, 6-4, added five points for Ka Makani, and 6-7 Evaldas Vegertas and 6-4 David Ovbagbedia each had had four. Vegertas and Gecas are boarding students from Lithuania, while Ovbagbedia is from Nigeria.
“It was hard in the beginning, but now we’re staring to gel,” Camero said. “The team chemistry is really high right now. Everyone is loving it.”
HPA 11 14 13 23 — 61
Hilo 11 9 11 18 —53
Konawaena 71, Pahoa 61: Brandon Awa scored 15 points, Jonah Bredeson added 13 and Kevin Medeiros had 11 as the Wildcats went on the road to win their road opener.
Konawaena survived a 38-point uprising from the Daggers’ Tolby Saito.
Kona 12 22 19 18 —71
Pahoa 9 18 18 16 —61
Kohala 76, Keaau 55: Mikala Jordan led five Cowboys in double figures with 22 points as Kohala opened with an easy road win.
Ryan Caravalho and Chance Pang each contributed 12 points, and Shawn Ray Ramos and Kealan Figueroa had 11.
Kohala 19 22 15 20 —76
Keaau 12 16 13 14—55
Waiakea 75, Honokaa 52: Dillon Rellez scored 18 points and the host Warriors got balanced scoring to pull away from the Dragons.
Maikai Gahan and Calvin Mattos each had 11 points and Kyle Kua-Ramirez finished with 10.
Nathan Gascon (15 points) and Cjay Carvalho (14) paced Honokaa.
Hon. 11 15 11 15 —52
Wai. 19 16 17 23—75
Kamehameha 81, Ka’u 56: Blaine-Allen Manliguis scored 25 points as the Warriors rode a huge second quarter to win in Pahala.
Faa Teofilo added 14 points and Pukana Vincent chipped in with 11 for Kamehameha, which scored 39 points in the second quarter to lead 49-31 at halftime.
Alexis Alejo (11 points) scored in double figures for the Trojans.
Kam 10 39 17 5 — 81
Ka’u 15 16 9 16 —56