By J.R. DeGROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
KAPAAU — Behind 17 points from Dillon Rellez, Waiakea spoiled Kohala’s homecoming festivities Saturday night with a 61-50 win in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation basketball game at the Hisaoka Gymnasium.
“We have been struggling to execute on offense,” said Waiakea head coach Paul Lee Jr. “Hopefully this is a turning point for us. We have been struggling, but all our losses have been close. We have not been able to finish games. This was the best ending to a game we had all season”
The Warriors were looking to string together consecutive wins for the first time since the start of the season. The only two blemishes on Waiakea’s resume were tight losses on the road against Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Konawaena.
Kohala entered the game with only a single loss, and the small but talent-laden roster had impressed so far this season. Saturday, only nine players suited up for the Cowboys.
“I was going to play a zone, but started with a man defense instead and it worked well so we stuck with it,” Lee said. “We saw them warming up with only nine guys and figured we could try to wear them down. They have a lot of talent, but we are just deeper.”
Waiakea gained an early edge by driving to the rim and capitalizing on second-chance points. A forward trio of Rellez, Lucas St. George and Kahinu Alapai wreaked havoc under the rim and made life tough for the Cowboy’s on the defensive end.
Much to the displeasure of the eager Kohala crowd, the Warriors decided to hold the ball for the final possession of the first quarter, running almost a full minute off the clock before missing on a final attempt. Waiakea ended the first quarter on a 7-2 run and held an eight-point cushion.
After a quick six-point run to open the quarter, Waiakea’s lead had grown to double-digits and the atmosphere in the building began to deflate. However, a 3-pointer from Justin Agbayani ignited a five-point swing and pulled the Cowboys to within single digits. Once again, the crowd became a factor.
“I played here when I was in high school and knew the environment would be crazy. I prepared the boys for it so they knew what they were coming into,” Lee said. “But who would not like playing in front of a crowd like this. It adds to the excitement of the game.”
Waiakea responded with a few quick scoring plays and after a last-second bucket entered the break with a substantial 13-point lead.
St. George, Waiakea’s versatile star, sat the majority of the first half after getting in foul trouble, but his teammates picked up the slack in his absence.
“It was foul trouble and his mindset,” Lee said. “His mind was not into the game how he should have been. It woke him up. The other guys stepped up and took the load off of him offensively.”
St. George finished the contest with 13 points.
With the support of the booming crowd, the Cowboys never gave up in the second half, but failed to put a significant dent into the Warriors lead. Turnovers, bad shot selections and fouls hampered Kohala from putting together successive possessions with points.
With a large lead, Waiakea controlled the pace of the game. Kohala never transitioned out of a soft man-to-man defense and the disciplined Warriors rarely took a shot if it was not an open look, milking a large amount of time off the clock.
Kealen Figueroa was the leading scorer for Kohala with 21 points.
The win gives Waiakea a little separation in the jam-packed Division I standings. Behind undefeated Konawaena, it is a wide-open sprint to the end of the season for seeding.
Kohala falls to 5-2 on the season, but still has a fair amount of breathing room as the No. 2 team in Division II.
Both teams are next in action Monday, with Kohala visiting Kealakehe and Waiakea hosting rival Hilo.
Waiakea 21 14 14 12—61
Kohala 13 9 14 14—50