HILO – This time it was Konawaena’s turn to pull out a miracle rabbit out of the hat against Waiakea, previously known as the mailman that delivers the agony of postseason defeat.
Austin Ewing sank the game-winning shot with five seconds left to lift the Wildcats over the Warriors 63-61 in the BIIF Division I semifinals on Tuesday night at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, where fans were treated to a thrilling finish.
After two years of torment at the hands of Waiakea, Konawaena (9-5) advanced to the BIIF championship for the sixth year in a row. Even better or equally so, they also got revenge against the Warriors, who beat them by miracle finish and blowout for the title the last two years.
“It’s amazing to get this win against Waiakea. They’ve been our competition since I was a freshman,” Ewing said. “It’s great for the seniors to go out with a win.”
Football may hold the majority of property in Ewing’s heart, but basketball has its own special VIP section.
That’s because it’s a family sport. The Konawaena senior point guard is the nephew of coach Donny Awa, and he grew up under the wing of his uncle’s Stingrays club team. They’ve endured a BIIF roller-coaster journey together.
On the second-to-last play, Ewing beat his defender off the dribble and dropped in a layup. Waiakea’s Noah Tominaga’s desperation 3-point attempt bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
“Coach told me to get the ball and drive to the basket,” Ewing said. “We have a lot of situation like this at practice. And we just had to do what we do and play basketball.”
Waiakea (10-4) won’t be going to states for the first time since 2015. The team loses senior starters Jaden Opiana and Noah Tominaga.
Aidrin Gadot came off the bench and scored 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting, Hauoli Akau added 17 points, and Ewing finished with 15 points for the Wildcats, who shot 49 percent (23 of 47) from the floor, including 5 of 13 from long range. Gadot drilled 4 of 6 from 3-point land.
Rekky Prudencio sacred 20 points, Peter Suiaunoa added 13 off the bench and hauled in 10 rebounds while William Soares had 10 points for the Warriors, who converted 46 percent (19 of 41) from the field, including 4 of 9 from long range.
Waiakea and Konawaena share a tangled history of dealing the agony of defeat on one another.
Last year, the Warriors defeated the Wildcats 68-66 for the BIIF title on Calvin Mattos’ game-tying triple and Kiai Apele’s steal-and-score at the buzzer. In 2016, Waiakea dusted Kona 60-40 for the crown.
In 2014, it was the Wildcats’ turn to stick a pin in. Konawaena defeated the Warriors for the championship and ousted them in the semifinals in 2013.
Here’s a thorn for you. Six matchups in the postseason: Waiakea has two titles, ushered out their rival from the semifinals once, lost to Kona three times in the semis and in the championship once.
For the most part, Konawaena had good ball flow and better ball movement. The athletic ’Cats attacked the rim, dribbled and dished, or drew fouls. They went 19 of 35 from the free throw line while Waiakea went 12 of 20.
Experience isn’t worth any points, but it certainly helps teams weather shaky episodes.
Behind the scoring duo of Gadot (13 points) and Akau (12 points), the Wildcats took a 36-24 halftime lead, but it quickly evaporated in the third quarter, when Waiakea outscored them 21-12.
In the fourth quarter, Soares hit 1 of 2 free throws to put Waiakea ahead 61-58 with 46.8 seconds to go. Then Akau tied it with a layup and free throw.
Prudencio missed two free throws with 23.9 seconds left, and Konawaena called timeout to work the last shot.
In the first half, Konawaena made 5 of 13 from 3-point range. Gadot, a backup sophomore guard, nailed 4 of 6 triples. He had back-to-back 3-balls in the first quarter. The latter was a four-point play, after he was fouled and swished the free throw for an 18-7 lead with 2:28 to go.
Then Ewing turned into Konawaena’s magician in the final quarter.
Konawaena 23 13 12 15 — 63
Waiakea 13 11 21 16 — 61