HILO – As close neighbors, Hawaii Prep and Honokaa rarely attended the same postseason party and remained strangers for so long.
For even longer, Ka Makani wasn’t much of a basketball presence while the Dragons have a deep history in the BIIF and often challenged the super powers — Hilo, Kamehameha, and Waiakea — back in the day.
Honokaa dropped down to Division II in 2011, won the title last year, its first in 16 years, edging HPA by a point in their first BIIF championship meeting on Kainalu Lau’s free throw with no time left.
For the second consecutive year, the Dragons and Ka Makani will battle for the BIIF title after pushing past Kohala 50-24 and St. Joseph 68-57, respectively, in the semifinals on Wednesday night at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
HPA (11-3) plays Honokaa (10-4) for the BIIF championship at 6 p.m. Thursday at Hilo Civic.
Since statewide classification started in 2007, Kohala is in the lead with four BIIF crowns, HPA, Pahoa, and St. Joseph have two each, and Honokaa, with a four-year late start, has one.
However, the Daggers and Ka Makani hold trump cards with HHSAA championships in 2010 and ’14, respectively, as the league runner-up. That confirmed the Big Island’s competitive nature on the Division II level.
Coach Fred Wawner’s Ka Makani appears in great shape to create a dynasty run. There are only two senior starters in guard Jonah Hurney, the team’s Mr. Steady, and forward Michael Hanano. The roster is blessed with young talent in freshman KJ Walker, sophomores Javan Perez, Umi Kealoha and Michael Hughes, and junior Matija Vitorovic.
The surging Ka Makani will be a regular at the BIIF’s postseason party for the foreseeable future. The question is will Honokaa, with eight seniors, including standout forward Kamuela Spencer Herring and guard Gene Ansagay, join them?
That’s a question that will be answered next season without the brute inside presence of Spencer Herring and the lightning-bolt quickness of Ansagay. The two Dragons breathe fire on the court and provide a deadly post and perimeter attack.
Here’s what each team did against its semifinal opponent to prepare for a postseason party date:
HPA 50, Kohala 24
Ka Makani scored most of their points in the paint and worked patiently for clean shots. Their tough man and help-side defense, especially off switches, plus their length, gave the Cowboys problems all game long.
Hughes came off the bench and scored 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, and Vitorovic added nine points for Ka Makani, who shot 53 percent (20 of 38) from the field. Vitorovic and Perez hit the only 3-pointers in 11 attempts.
Isaiah Salvador scored 10 points and Elijah Antonio knocked down a pair of 3-balls and scored seven points for the Cowboys, who shot just 22 percent (8 of 37) from the floor.
The season is over for the Cowboys (5-10), who lose seniors Maui Hook, Kahoalii Lewis, and Ian Rivera.
The few times Kohala pressed HPA moved the ball and either scored or got fouled on rim attacks. Ka Makani couldn’t find their accuracy on free throws, though. They went just 8 of 23 from the line.
Still, Wawner thought the game was good preparation for the Dragons, who’ll hit HPA with far more ball pressure.
“We locked in on our goals. We couldn’t ask more from our defense in the first half (Kohala made just 2 of 18 field goals), and we got confident on offense,” he said. “These games are always hard. It’s different with the lights on and the atmosphere.
“Honokaa is athletic, and they’ve got tenacity. We’ll have to find a way to score and prevent them from getting baskets. They’re the defending champs. We haven’t done anything yet.”
Kohala 3 4 4 13 — 24
Hawaii Prep 15 8 14 13 — 50
St. Joseph 57
With five minutes left, the Dragons commanded a 20-point lead, and their inability to close the game got a few Honokaa fans nervous at the end.
The St. Joseph faithful were wishing upon a star for a 2016 miracle comeback. That year, the Cardinals trailed Honokaa by 18 points at halftime but stunned the Dragons 51-50 for the BIIF title and the greatest championship comeback in hoops.
Gene Ansagay (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Kamuela Spencer-Herring (12 points, 11 boards) produced double-doubles while Kolten Carvalho added 15 points for the Dragons, who led 28-18 at the break and earned berth along with HPA at the HHSAA tournament.
Ruka Suda scored 20 points, and Dylan Costales added 11 points for Cardinals (3-12), who lose seniors Suda, Raycen Lum, and Philip Kim.
St. Joseph just couldn’t drain enough long balls. The Cardinals went just 4 of 20 from 3-point range.
Honokaa coach Jayme Carvalho is hoping his team flips a switch against HPA.
“We have to make our layups, free throws and stay out of foul trouble and look for their shooters, like Jonah,” he said. “They’ve hit 3-pointers at the end of games. We fell back on our press, and St. Joe controlled the tempo.”
The Dragons made only 14 of 29 free throws, but at least they buried 46 percent (24 of 52) from the field.
“We have to get the ball to Kamu. He’s a beast,” Carvalho said. “We also need someone other than our starters to step up. That’s what I’m looking for. And we need to close games.”
St. Joseph 8 10 15 24 — 57
Honokaa 14 14 21 19 — 68