KEALAKEKUA — There were no early jitters for Konawaena, which played stifling defense and rode a hot start to down Hilo 37-33 in a BIIF Division I semifinal game on Friday at Ellison Onizuka Gymnasium.
For most of the night it looked like a first-quarter knockout for the Wildcats, which took a 14-4 lead after the opening eight minutes. But Hilo stuck around, getting as close as three points in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats sealed the win at the free throw line.
“Hilo’s an incredible team — well coached, so disciplined,” Konawaena head coach Bobbie Awa said. “Our girls came out fired up and felt good. But after the first quarter we got stuck. We were getting stops but we needed to score more consistently.”
Konawaena will face top seed Waiakea, which won its matchup handily against Kealakehe, coming away with a 76-15 victory and a swell of momentum heading into the title game. The Division I championship is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Kealakekua and will be broadcast on Na Leo TV.
Both Waiakea and Konawaena have secured a spot in the HHSAA tournament, which begins Feb. 4. The winner will get a seeded berth and a bye.
Konawaena is looking to build on its dynasty that includes 10 consecutive BIIF titles and nine D-I state titles since 2004, including the last four in a row. Waiakea is looking for its first league title since 2008.
On both sides of the court, Grace Lyn Hing was a force for Konawaena. On the defensive end, she was the primary defender on standout Hilo freshman Keirstyn Agonias. On offense, she made clutch buckets for the Wildcats, collecting 16 points on 53 percent shooting.
When the teams met in the regular season, Hing didn’t log a ton of minutes, but has steadily turned into one of Konawaena’s deadliest weapons down the stretch.
“She’s always been a starter, but she had sat out a year and was just coming back to basketball early in the season,” Awa said. “It was great to see how she played tonight.”
Caiyle Kaupu was the other Wildcat in double-figures, recording a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Agonias finished as Hilo’s leading scorer with seven points — five of those coming from the free throw line.
The Vikings are the only team in the BIIF to have recorded a win over Waiakea — two in fact, having done it in the preseason as well. But the season is over for the Vikings, who finish the year with a 9-2 record.
It was an instant classic the first time Hilo and Konawaena met up and the closest call up to that point of the Wildcats’ storied BIIF winning streak ending. Facing a rare late fourth quarter deficit at their own gym, Konawaena put together a comeback and turned away a series of Hilo chances at the rim with just seconds left to escape with a 46-44 victory.
For the majority of the night, this one wasn’t that close, with Hilo never being able to break the six-point barrier the Wildcats built during a torrid start in the first quarter.
But the Vikings stuck around, even getting a good look at the tying 3-point try down the stretch.
“They made us work for it,” Awa said.
A month after the first close call to Hilo, the most dominant win streak in league history did end at 124 when Waiakea blitzed the Wildcats 54-25 in a game where Konawaena shot 22 percent and was 0 of 21 from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats have been hungry for a shot at redemption.
“In the first matchup, Waiakea played us tough. They outhustled us for loose balls and shot the ball well,” Awa said. “We were just a step behind on everything and didn’t shoot well. We’ll just need to put the ball in the basket and then hopefully we can give them a game.”
Konawaena has the backing of its home court, which wasn’t a benefit of being the top seed — that was Waiakea — but rather by a bit of luck that the league’s rotation landed on Kealakekua this year.
Having a crowd that is shaded a healthy tint of green has never been more needed than for this young group of Wildcats, who have shown the ability at times to feed off the positive vibes.
“It’s such a fun environment,” Awa said.
Konawaena started the game 7-for-8, taking a 14-2 early edge. The Wildcats were also the beneficiaries of three consecutive Hilo possessions ending in offensive fouls.
The Viks cut into the lead,getting it as close to 14-7 early in the second quarter, but wouldn’t get that close again in the first half, with the Wildcats entering the break with a 20-10 advantage.
Hilo played the majority of the second quarter without the services of Agonias. After taking a spill on the offensive end, she hit her head hard on the gym floor. She sat the remainder of the first half but reentered to start the third quarter.
The Vikings won both quarters in the second half as the Wildcats struggled to find consistent offense, leading to a thrilling final few minutes.
The Viks made it a one-possession game with just over a minute left, but Kali Salazar Harrell came up with a steal and a few shots at the line to get Konawaena to the finish line.
Waiakea 76, Kealakehe 15
The Warriors rolled over the Waveriders behind 18 points from Kelsie Imai and 11 from Keeli-Jade Smith.
Waiakea’s pressure proved too much for Kealakehe from the start, with the Warriors taking a 36-2 advantage after the first quarter and forcing 30-plus first half turnovers.
In all, Waiakea forced 41 turnovers, turning down the pressure cooker in the second half.
The season is over for the Waveriders, but the improvement as an above .500 team in league play is noteworthy. The Waveriders finished 6-5 under first-year head coach Tashauna Macklin.