In anticipation of Saturday’s championship clash with Kalani, HPA skipper Fred Wawner noted that his squad would need to neutralize the speed of the Falcons and play at their comfortable grind-it-out pace.
Ka Makani executed the game plan to perfection, and stifled offensive-minded Kalani 42-33 in the title game of the Division II Hawaii High School Athletic Association state boys basketball tournament at Neal Blaisdell Arena. HPA leaned on post players David Ovbagbedia (12 points, 11 rebounds and a blocked shot) and Nicky Palleschi (nine points and five rebounds), while point guard Justas Gecas (eight points, six rebounds and four assists) ran the offense to perfection while dribbling out of continuous pressure— including some double- and triple-team efforts — applied by Kalani’s pesky defenders.
“They’re a high-tempo team that likes to run, and our game is totally opposite; we like to play slow, control the ball and run our plays,” said Gecas, whose fingers were bloodied and taped after being harassed all game by the opposition. “It’s the first time in school history that we’re in the final and first time we won. It’s a great feeling, and all the hard work paid off.”
Hawaii Preparatory Academy (16-1) used its marked height and size advantage to neutralize Kalani’s speed and daunting full-court defensive pressure. Gecas employed a deft display of dribbling that allowed the agile court marshal to evade the press, while Falcons go-to scorer Brandon Roberts was held to just seven points on a dismal 2-of-18 shooting from the field including just one of 11 conversions from behind the 3-point arc. HPA parlayed its supreme size into a rebounding advantage, as Ka Makani controlled the boards 39-21, including a 16-9 edge in offensive rebounds.
Kalani (8-8) attempted to rally midway through the fourth quarter on a 9-2 run spurred by five straight points from Roberts and four from Ace Faumui (12 points and seven rebounds) that cut the deficit to 36-31 with 2:33 remaining in the game. Ka Makani did not panic, however, and continued to slow the pace while making six free throws down the stretch to ice the victory.
“Even though we couldn’t get a basket to go down in the first half, our tempo was right and that’s who we are,” Wawner said. “We were handling their pressure (down the stretch) because they have so many different weapons off the bounce. David (Ovbagbedia) pulled down three or four big rebounds late in the fourth quarter, and that was huge.”
Despite controlling the action in the opening quarter, Ka Makani managed a slim 10-7 lead after converting just four of 19 field goal attempts in the first frame. Both squads combined to turn the ball over nine times in the early going, a noticeable result of the big-game pressure felt in the cavernous arena.
The red-and-white clad HPA squad gained some breathing room by outscoring Kalani 7-2 over the final few minutes of the first half. Ka Makani took a 21-12 halftime lead on a sweet pass from Gecas through traffic in the lane right to a streaking Ovbagbedia, who converted a contested layup and drained the ensuing free throw after being fouled with 3.7 seconds to play before intermission. The momentum-shifting play represented a five-point swing, as Kalani appeared poised to set up a short-range shot opportunity before turning the ball over for the eighth time in the first two quarters.
Ka Makani ran through the Big Island Interscholastic Federation campaign undefeated until losing to Kohala in the league title game Feb. 15. Senior guard Kalan Camero suffered a concussion Feb. 14 during the BIIF semifinals, and did not return to action despite being declared “day-to-day” by Wawner. Camero warmed up on the court prior to the contest and was in uniform for the game.
Saturday’s title game marked the first time in four years that an unseeded team emerged with the D-II state crown. HPA made its third consecutive state tournament appearance, and was able to get past the semifinal round for the first time after finishing third in the previous two attempts.
In the Division I title game, Iolani defeated Farrington 43-40. Ikaika Phillip led the way for the Raiders with 15 points and eight rebounds.
It is Iolani’s 10th state banner. The Raiders improve to 54-18 in 22 tournament appearances, and also run their record state tournament win streak to 19.
Division I consolation
Jonah Bredeson and Brandon Awa each scored 20 points and Chase Takaki hit two free throws with :10 left to give Konawaena a 52-51 win over Baldwin in the state Division II boys basketball tournament’s fifth-place game Saturday.
The final games of the HHSAA state D-I and D-II tournaments were played at Blaisdell Arena.
Konawaena (13-3 overall, 2-1 state tourney) led 21-20 at intermission and the game was tied 37-37 heading into the fourth period.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats outscored the third-seeded Bears (14-3, 1-2) 15-14 in the final eight minutes to get the win. Takaki’s free throws with :10 remaining gave Konawaena a 52-48 lead before Baldwin’s Niko Corpin hit a 3-pointer with :04 left to make it a one-point contest.
Takaki finished with four points. Bredeson had 10 rebounds and Awa seven to close out their prep careers. Kody Takushi led Baldwin with 14 points.
Konawaena had a rough day shooting the ball, making just 1 of 6 3-pointers and 15 of 27 free throws.
Division II consolation
Cameron King scored 24 points to lead No. 3 Seabury Hall (16-1, 2-1) to a 57-45 win over No. 4 Kohala (11-5, 1-2) in the state D-II tournament’s third-place game.
Shawn Ray Ramos led the Cowboys with 12 points. Ryan Caravalho had eight and Kealen Figueroa seven. Mikala Jordan was cold from the floor and finished with two points, after posting back-to-back 20-plus point games.
Kohala was 0 for 12 on 3-pointers.