Thanks to some heavy morning rains that brought moisture to the air, events of the day were a little off schedule at the annual Labor Day Alumni Basketball Tournament at Panaewa gym, and that included the winners of the championship game in the final event, the men’s open.
“We got invited back and we took it seriously,” said Alika Alip, the designated captain-organizer-coach of the Honokaa team that has been absent from the tournament for a few years but made their presence felt Monday.
Alip, who played collegiately at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore., and the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wa., led all scorers with 24 points including the go-ahead basket at the end when Honokaa made a made a rush and knocked off the favored Hilo team 65-59.
“We have some guys who can ball, I knew that, so I called around and it worked out that we had a bunch of guys who can play and were available,” Alip said. “We all played together back in the day at Honokaa, but in all those different teams, we never won the BIIF championship.”
A smile broke over Alip’s face, seemingly as the thought occurred to him. He gestured toward the team and the court and said, “This is our BIIF championship, and we will be back.”
The men’s open championship game was scheduled for a noon tipoff, but event organizers had to bring in two big air blowers to dry out the courts, which required a decision to dry out one court completely, so rather than having games on adjoining courts, teams had to get in line to play for titles on the one dry surface.
“We wish we could have been on schedule and we would have without the rain,” said tournament director Bruce Ferreira, “but no excuses, we were able to get it all in.”
The men’s open was a matter of consistency at Honokaa’s end and inconsistency at the other end for Hilo, which was boosted by the appearance of University of Hawaii at Hilo graduate Randan Berinobis, who teamed up with Auki Wong, his longtime basketball mentor and assistant coach at UHH. Wong’s deep ball shooting always draws oohs and aahs from the crowd, but he was erratic on this day.
Wong led Hilo in scoring with 20 points, but he was just 5-for-21 from the floor, with four 3-pointers to go along with some free throws and one basket from inside the 3-point line.
“Not too sharp,” Wong said after the game, “one of those days.”
Despite Wong’s early struggles shooting, Hilo grabbed the lead and stayed on top through three quarters, never relinquishing the lead. Berinobis had 13 points in the first half to help Hilo take a 31-27 lead, but he was held to just two points in the second half.
Even so, Hilo took a 49-42 lead into the fourth quarter, but each time Honokaa would trim the lead to two or three points, Hilo would find a way to nudge the back again, until Alip buried a heavily guarded 3-pointer for Honokaa’s first lead at 58-56 with two minutes left to play.
It was 60-58 when Honokaa’s Micah Dunhour, who played overseas for a team in Finland last year, dropped in a basket to make it 62-58 with less than 30 seconds to play, then Keala Frietas sunk two foul shots and that was it, Honokaa’s longstanding basketball rivalry with Hilo had just earned a gold star.
“I saw who they had on their team,” Wong said, “I knew they’d be tough.”
In the 35-and-over men’s final, Hilo Gold, including a couple players who also played in the men’s open game, wore #BillyStrong t-shirts to help raise awareness and support for former Hilo mayor Billy Kenoi, who is in a battle with cancer. The Hilo squad defeated Laupahoehoe 62-33 in a game that ended with two minutes on the clock to make way for the open division final. Jordan Flores had 17 for Hilo Gold, Zac Lui led Laupahoehoe with 10.
Sisters Kaylene (14) and Keisha (11) Kanekoa combined for 25 points to lead Honokaa past Konawaena 55-49 in the women’s championship game. Mana Hopkins poured in 24 points for Konawaena.
The tournament is showing no signs of decreasing interest, with 28 teams involved this year, including 12 in the men’s open competition and eight each in the men’s 35-and-over and the women’s open.