It was Kohala’s speed.
It was Kohala’s pace.
It was Kohala’s style.
Finally, it was Kohala’s time.
The small-town school with a big-family vibe features a fiery passion for basketball second to none on the Big Island, and now the Cowboys have their crown jewel.
A state championship trophy is coming back to Kapaau for the first time after Kohala, boosted by O’shen Cazimero’s 23 points, outlasted Roosevelt 51-48 on Friday night in the Division II final at Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu.
“It’s really emotional, it’s really a big thing,” Cazimero told a statewide audience on OC16. “Being the first, it means history. We made history.
“This is for Kohala, baby.”
The final minutes were a frenzied haze of missed layups, missed chances and frenetic back-and-forth play, with Moses Emeliano hitting a go-ahead free throw with 34 seconds remaining.
When it was over — a long Rough Riders’ 3-pointer to tie fell short — Cazimero and the Cowboys fell to the floor in celebration.
“It’s a big relief,” said Kohala first-year head coach Kihei Kapeliela, a school alum and longtime assistant under Don Fernandez. “These boys worked hard all year; they totally deserve it.”
The BIIF-runner up Cowboys are the league’s first state champ since Hawaii Prep won it in 2014.
More than most state titles won by BIIF teams, this one feels like it was won with a singular community in mind.
“We have the best fans in the world,” Kapeliela said. “They are probably all watching right now. They support us like it’s a big family. The whole town is like a big family.”
In beating every BIIF Division I team on its schedule while falling twice to HPA, Kohala (15-2) became seasoned at playing close games. Perhaps that’s why the Cowboys seemed so poised at the end, even after a late six-point lead slipped away.
“The last two minutes were just like a regular game,” Cazimero said. “We fight for them. We’re meant or it.”
The standout sophomore guard flashed his full arsenal, hitting three 3-pointers and an acrobatic driving layup to stake Kohala to a one-point lead at halftime. With 66 points in three games, he was the easy choice as tournament most outstanding player.
“They rely on me, and I always take the chance,” Cazimero said.
And there were plenty of teammates he could rely on, too.
Junior Molonai Emeliano finished with 12 points and seven rebounds and was sturdy — along with sophomore Koby Agbayani (seven rebounds) — down low as Kohala only was narrowly beaten on the glass by its taller opponent.
Junior Jeffrey Francisco scored six points, including a runner in the fourth quarter.
“They just believe, all 11 of them,” Kapeliela said. “This was a team effort. We’re small, we’ve got to play team defense. That’s the only way we’re going to win.”
Kohala limited OIA champion Roosevelt (10-6) — which edged top-seeded HPA in the semifinals — to 31% shooting, including 2 of 13 from 3-point range. Senior Elijah Antonio added five points, two coming on free throws to give Kohala a 48-42 lead.
But it almost all fell apart.
The Cowboys made mistakes, and Roosevelt raced back and tied the game on Kody Seguancia’s clutch free throws
After junior Moses Emeliano (three points, six rebounds, four assists) made one of two at the line, the Rough Riders had two chances to take the lead. Drake Watanabe, who led his team with 13 points, missed two free throws, and his 3-pointer was off the mark.
After an in-bounds play, Molonai Emeliano was fouled and put the last two points on the board at the free-throw line.
The Cowboys made 13 of 16 from the line.
“Honesty, I’m speechless, it’s surreal,” Molonai Emeliano said. “I’m overwhelmed.”
Kohala is scheduled to return home today, landing at 6:55 p.m. at the Kona airport on Hawaiian Airlines Flight 528.
“Our school is small, but I’m sure there will be a little bit of a buzz wherever we go,” Molonai Emeliano said.