HILO — Nick Fisher, often a one-man scoring show this season, had scoring help on Friday, and Pahoa, which played beyond its size on the boards, reaped the benefits at the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II basketball tournament.
Fisher scored 22 points, and Tolby Saito and Randin Napeahi had 16 each to lift the Daggers over Kohala 67-65 in the BIIF Division II semifinals at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, returning Pahoa to the state tournament after sitting out last year.
It was a rematch of last season’s BIIF semifinals, which Kohala won 54-47 on the strength of Kalai Kapeliela’s 21 points, including 11 of 11 free throws. It’s the end of the season for the Cowboys (7-5), who lose three seniors in Kapeliela, Makani Kualii and Iokepa Jordan.
Pahoa (8-5) earned a spot in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament, which will be held Feb. 20-23 on Oahu, where Fisher has put on brilliant performances. He scored a game-high 17 points as a freshman in 2010 to spark Pahoa over Kailua for the Division II state championship. The next season, Fisher scored a game-high 23 points but the Daggers lost to Farrington 58-45 for the state title.
“This feels good, better than last year,” Fisher said. “It was heart. We believed in each other and trusted each other. We had a long talk before the game, and we needed everyone to be all in.”
Like last year, free throws made a difference, after Fisher tied it at 62 on a layup. Pahoa wasn’t all that accurate from the charity stripe (17 of 29 for 59 percent), but it made enough when it really counted. With less than a minute left, Jarrett Kamaka, Saito and Fisher each converted 1 of 2 free throws.
Then Kualii canned a 3-pointer, making it 66-65 with four seconds left. Kamaka was fouled and split a pair of free throws again for a 67-65 lead with 3.2 seconds remaining. The Cowboys made a desperation Hail Mary heave near halfcourt, but it was nowhere close.
Fisher pointed to better rebounding in the third quarter as a key momentum swing, especially after Kapeliela sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer at halftime, cutting Pahoa’s lead to 31-30.
“This season we outrebounded everybody, Hilo, Waiakea, and we were wondering what was happening in the first half,” he said. “But that was on us. It was effort that brought us back.”
Like Fisher summarized, Pahoa got active on the boards in the third quarter, grabbing offensive rebounds and outscoring Kohala 18-15. Saito hit a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound, and Napeahi had a putback after Kualii made one of two free throws. It was 45-37, Pahoa ahead and not done dropping in layups. Napeahi got another, and Kamaka had a layup, increasing the lead to 49-40.
But Kapeliela kept the Cowboys close, knocking down a 3-pointer and making a layup, giving his team a fighting chance heading into the fourth quarter down 49-45.
What kept the Cowboys close was their free-throw and 3-point shooting. They went 15 of 20 from the free throw line and hit 4 of 7 treys in the second half, two by Kapeliela, who finished with 20 points. Kualii added 16 points, and Mikala Jordan had 13 points.
The Daggers played at a deliberate pace in the first quarter, taking a 14-6 lead. Then Kohala turned it into a track meet, bolting to a 9-0 run to start the second quarter, sparked by Mikala Jordan’s 3-pointer and a basket off a turnover. From there his teammate, Kualii, took over, scoring eight points before Kapeliela buried his 3-pointer before halftime.
The Cowboys played a man defense, relying on multiple defenders taking turns against Fisher, who had seven points in the first half. In halfcourt sets, he often worked at the elbows, and Saito threw him touch passes. Once he got the ball, he attacked the rim. And when he missed, his teammates, usually Napeahi under the glass, gathered big rebounds and provided scoring help.
The reward for the Daggers, especially for Fisher who was stretched out on the court with cramps after the game, was a better feeling than last year.
Kohala 6 24 15 20 — 65
Pahoa 14 17 18 18 — 67