On a day usually reserved as a time for the everyman to sit down and and watch superlative performances, Rico Handy fit right in. He stood up and delivered a take-over performance of his own.
Super Sunday took on a new meaning for the Keaau Cougars, who rode’s Handy’s 21 points to a 48-40 victory against Hilo at the Vikings’ gym, advancing to a second BIIF boys Division I basketball postseason play-in game.
“Sometimes I feel I can do it on my own, but I also try to get my teammates involved and help them out,” Handy said.
Keaau (9-5) will host Kealakehe (8-5) at 6 p.m. Monday in another tiebreaker, with the winner advancing to face Kamehameha on Tuesday in the BIIF semifinals at Hilo Civic. The Waveriders got a bye because they beat Hilo and Keaau this season.
The Vikings (8-6) moved into a three-way tie for fourth place Saturday night by beating Kohala, setting up the first BIIF contest held on a Sunday since 2013, when Hilo and Waiakea played a baseball championship game that was postponed by rain a day earlier.
“I felt lazy in the morning, but it worked out,” Handy said. “Everybody came prepared.”
In a game defined by spurts, Keaau coach Jun Pagala was pleased to see his team, at long last, respond in crunch time when the Vikings made their final run. Guyson Ogata’s steal and layup cut the Cougars’ lead to 40-36, and two more turnovers and three free throws by Tyler Wana made it a one-point game.
Pagala couldn’t help but think here we go again — Keaau missed a chance to clinch a playoff spot Friday when Honokaa’s Kamuela Spencer Herring hit a buzzer-beater after a full-court inbounds pass — but Handy drove for layup, passed to Branden Pagala (six points) for another basket inside, then sealed the game at the free throw line.
“A lot of our games we’ve broke down at the end and couldn’t close it out,” Jun Pagala. “They held their composure and got (the ball) into the right hands.
“Sometimes Rico has to understand he’s one of the best on the island at handling the ball and pressure.”
Jojo Balagot led Hilo with 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that helped the Viks hang around after trailing by as many as 13. Hilo struggled mightily from the field, making just 1 of 13 shots in the first quarter, and the Vikings were almost as bad in the third quarter, when Keaau switched to a 2-3 zone defense and turned a 20-18 halftime deficit into a nine point lead entering the fourth by allowing just one field goal.
“They were well-prepared,” Vikings coach Bruce Ferreira said. “They played excellent defense and stopped the drive. When we drove, their helpside defense was there.”
Wana finished with eight points and Liko Medeiros added five for Hilo, which arrived back at about midnight after playing Saturday night in Kapaau, Ferreira said, and then made a quick turnaround for the 10 a.m. start.
“No excuses,” Ferreira said.
Patrick Mears complemented Handy with nine points and Isaiah Akana added five for the Cougars, who are more than happy to turn around and play the Waveriders (8-5) in what they hope is just their second game in a four-day span.
On Jan. 16 in Kailua-Kona, Kealakehe beat Keaau 48-43 in a game Handy said “the shots weren’t falling.”
“Close game,” Pagala said “They got a couple of rebounds and they got second-chance points.”
Keaau looks to head to the playoffs for the second year in a row, while Hilo has missed the semifinals in the ultra-competitive D-I two years in a row.
Ferreira, a former Vikings’ standout and 1987 Hilo grad, has watched more BIIF basketball than most, but he’s never seen a race so tightly contested as the six teams engaged in this season. Tuesday’s other semifinal will match Waiakea (10-3) and Konawaena (9-4).
“Unbelievable,” he said. “Going into the BIIF the tournament you have no idea who is going to win it. Of course, Kamehameha is the front-runner, but other than that it’s even and it’s fun.”
Keaau 12 6 13 17 — 48
Hilo 4 16 2 21 — 43