HONOLULU — What was billed as a clash between two of the top teams at the Division II level quickly morphed into a one-sided affair claimed by the larger, more aggressive Hawaii Preparatory Academy squad.
Ka Makani frustrated Seabury Hall on both ends of the court Friday night, rolling to a 58-35 victory in the semifinals of the HHSAA state boys basketball tournament at Kalani High School. HPA advances to today’s championship game, where it will face Kalani of the Oahu Interscholastic Association at 5 p.m. at the Neal Blaisdell Arena.
The previously undefeated Spartans (15-1) had no answer for HPA’s multipronged offensive attack headlined by 6-foot-4 senior forward David Ovbagbedia, whose energetic effort netted 14 points, eight rebounds and an emphatic two-handed slam dunk that put Ka Makani up by 17 through three quarters.
“He really anchored us,” HPA co-coach Fred Wawner said of his dominant post player. “He got some big baskets when we weren’t settled. We wanted to emphasize our post game, and he was really able to finish some plays that got us going.”
HPA also received a game-high 16 points from point guard Justas Gecas, who dished out three assists and collected three steals. Evaldas Vegertas, a 6-7 forward, collected nine points and seven rebounds and 6-4 Nicky Palleschi contributed eight points. Ka Makani connected on 21 of 41 field-goal attempts, and dominated the post on both ends of the court with a 35-20 rebounding edge.
“We felt like we matched up well, and used some of our strengths to our advantage,” Wawner said. “They have size, we have size and our kids were excited — that really showed.”
HPA (15-1) raced out to an early lead thanks to a 13-0 run that spanned most of the opening quarter. Ka Makani finished the first frame with a 16-5 advantage after the sharp-shooting Gecas drained a 3-point shot just prior to the buzzer sounding.
Ka Makani used its distinct size advantage to pound the ball down low while Seabury Hall settled for a slew of mid- to long-range jumpers. HPA employed an unselfish and well-balanced scoring attack that produced a 14-3 run near the end of the first half, taking a 32-16 halftime advantage.
Seabury Hall did not have a player score in double figures and shot only 29.7 percent. The Spartans got within 11 points late in the third quarter, but Ovbagbedia’s dunk capped a 6-0 run to give HPA a 45-28 lead heading to the fourth.
Seabury Hall of the Maui Interscholastic League represented the tournament’s highest remaining seed at No. 3 and has appeared in seven of eight Division II tournaments. HPA was making its third consecutive state tournament appearance and will compete for its first state crown after losing in the semifinal round in each of the previous two seasons.
Ka Makani ran through the Big Island Interscholastic Federation campaign undefeated until losing to Kohala in the league title game last Saturday. Senior guard Kalan Camero suffered a concussion Feb. 14 during the BIIF semifinals, and has not returned to action despite again being declared “day-to-day” by Wawner, who grinned when asked about the player’s availability.
Today’s final marks the first time in four years that an unseeded team will emerge with the D-II state crown.
“The speed and their ability to spurt are going to be a challenge,” said Wawner when asked about the matchup with the Falcons (8-7). “We just can’t play that fast. We need to be the best HPA (squad) we can be, and hope to counter some of that speed.”