Behind a 24-point fourth quarter and a 19-point effort from junior Mikala Jordon, Kohala (10-3) upset defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion and previously undefeated Hawaii Preparatory Academy 67-53 at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium Saturday.
“There is no way to explain the feeling of winning a championship,” Kohala head coach Don Fernandez said. “I could have tried to describe it to the kids, but no words could have done it. Now they know that feeling”
With the win, Kohala earns the league’s lone automatic berth at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament, which will be held Thursday to Feb. 22 on Oahu. HPA will host a state play-in game against the Interscholastic League of Honolulu’s No. 3 team University High School Monday.
Kohala was led by a balanced scoring attack, with four players in double figures. Ryan “Hana” Caravalho knocked in 13, while Shawn Ray Ramos and Justin Agbayani combined for 23 points.
Junior guard Justas Gecas led HPA (12-1) with 16 points, and David Ovbagbedia added 14 points.
Kohala has had its ups and downs this season, but hit its stride heading into the BIIF playoffs. The Cowboys’ championship run is the team’s first since 2009 — the final year of three consecutive BIIF championships.
In the regular season meeting between the teams, HPA narrowly beat Kohala 73-67 at Castle Gymnasium. That meeting was exactly one month before Saturday’s title clash.
“We stuck with the same game plan but learned a lot from the first time around,” Fernandez said. “It was understanding that their bigs inside could block our shots and that we would have to settle for jump shots. To start playing that way consistently is a challenge.”
Kohala raced out to an early 7-2 lead, and its full-court trap bothered HPA. Ka Makani played without star senior Kalan Camero who was knocked out in the fourth quarter of HPA’s semifinal game after taking a spill and hitting his head on the ground. Camero was taken away from the stadium in an ambulance and had to watch Saturday’s game from the sideline.
“We were pretty lucky that Camero did not play, but the other guys stepped up and hit shots for them too,” Fernandez said.
The Cowboys quickly learned that running with the high-powered Ka Makani offense is not an easy task.
HPA responded to the early deficit with a barrage of 3-pointers from guards Gecas, Kellen Gillens and Kenji Stinson. In the blink of an eye, HPA gained a double-digit lead, finishing the first quarter on a 22-4 run.
With HPA on a roll, the game had the potential to get out of hand, but Kohala made some adjustments after the first quarter. The Cowboys held Ka Makani to just nine second quarter points.
“In the first half, I think we settled too much for playing typical half-court defense. That’s not our game,” Fernandez said. “We let them control the pace. We were trying to get them to turn the ball over, but those turnovers come more when they are tired. You rarely get turnovers from fresh guys. The longevity of our press paid off. Once they got tired, they started to get lazy with their passing.”
After a last second 3-pointer from Caravalho, the Cowboys pulled to within single-digits and the teams entered the locker room with HPA leading 33-24.
“We knew we might be down early,” Jordon said. “We knew they had a lot of talent and were much bigger than us, but we only needed to be close late to make a run at it.”
Kohala continued the upward trend early in the third quarter. With a quick 3-pointer from Ramos and a follow-up transition bucket, Kohala began to chip away at the HPA lead, pulling within four points.
The teams traded buckets, but Caravalho and Agbayani continued to hit shots, even with hands in their faces. With just under a minute left in the third quarter, Kohala regained the lead for the first time since the opening minutes.
Stinson hit his third 3-pointer of the game late in the third quarter, but Kohala responded at the other end with a Ramos 3 off the glass.
There was no sign of fatigue in the Cowboys.
“Our condition is something we pride ourselves on,” Fernandez said. “At the end of practice every day they know those suicide runs are coming. We knew we had to keep our energy up down the stretch to win.”
The deafening screams from the battling fan bases welcomed the teams into the fourth quarter.
Kohala rode the noise, caught fire and simply could not miss.
Jordon, who had just nine points entering the final stanza, came alive for Cowboys hitting back-to-back 3-pointers and giving Kohala a nice lead to work with early in the fourth quarter.
Jordon finished the quarter with 10 points.
“We kept pushing, as a team,” Jordon said. “It’s not just me. My team got me open and gave me the chance to hit those shots.”
With the barrage from Jordon and company, HPA found itself in an unfamiliar situation — down big with time quickly ticking away.
HPA was forced into fouling with just over a minute left, but Kohala stayed hot, hitting shots from the charity stripe.
With less than a minute left, Kohala had built a double-digit lead. On a last-ditch effort, HPA attempted to get an open look for Gecas, but Kealen Figueroa came up with a final steal to seal the championship.
“It’s a special feeling,” Fernandez said. “They continued to play well, and trust what they were doing on the court. Mikala had the big baskets, but it took a whole team effort to win.”
Kohala 11 13 19 24 — 67
HPA 24 9 9 11 — 53