Only the underdogs saw this one coming.
Earlier in the season, Hilo beat Kamehameha in four sets and looked like a lock to run the table toward its first BIIF Division I championship since 1999.
But something unexpected happened on Wednesday night at the Vikings’ gym, where the two teams met for a rematch and the BIIF title.
The Warriors withstood everything the Vikings had to offer and countered with cleaner play to win 21-25, 26-24, 25-19, 26-24 for its most unlikely BIIF crown, the 10th overall and the hardest to pin down.
All season, Hilo relied on its ball-control and the twin attacks of Kaala Deitch and MJ Vento Rowe to overpower opponents. That’s been Kamehameha’s blueprint, too, going back to 2005 with its first BIIF title under former coach Guy Enriques. The offense has always featured one powerful left-side hitter, an L1 who could be counted on in the clutch.
Hilo had the league’s most dynamic one in Deitch, a 5-foot-11 junior outside hitter, who put up monster stats with a double-double: 29 kills on 59 swings, a .356 hitting average and 12 digs.
Even when the Warriors set up their block perfectly, Deitch was still able to find seams or smash a rocket off someone’s arms. He was pretty much unstoppable, and he was his routine self.
So, the Warriors played Michael Jordan defense against Hilo. They knew they couldn’t stop Deitch. They tried to stop everyone else. Rowe had 15 kills on 56 swings and hit .036. Middle Keanu Quranitsas-Hayes had eight kills and hit .357 but only had 14 attacks.
Kamehameha (14-1) served tough to give Hilo’s passers just enough problems. The Vikings (14-1) surrendered seven aces and got none.
Serve-receive passing is an unsung but a critical category, much like pass blocking for a quarterback. It sets the foundation for everything to follow. It’s been Kamehameha’s bread and butter for decades.
The Warriors have one of the league’s best in senior libero Kamahao Kawelu, who took 34 serves and gave up zero aces. Kamau Maka’ike, who had 32 receptions, and Blane Baclig, who had 21, were both perfect passers, too.
All those accurate passes allowed setter Davin Masanda to spread the ball. Of course, he fed Maka’ike, who had 24 kills on 63 swings but hit just. 175. The biggest difference maker was senior middle Blake Baclig, who pounded 16 kills on just 26 attacks and hit a whopping .462. He was basically money every time his team needed a point for sideout or to extend a rally.
“At practice, we focused on our weakness. We keyed on Kaala. He was so good,” Masanda said. “We stacked on him and we were aware of his angle shots.
“It fees good. They’re a good team, but we worked hard for this.”
Blake Baclig got in a good hitting groove.
“I was feeling it,” he said. “I would see an opening and I swung hard. I swung hard to win. The coaches told us to play as a team and play for each other.”
In the pivotal third set, Kamehameha had a sideout percentage of 60 percent while Hilo’s clip was just 45 percent. It’s a mountain to climb when the other team is always serving for points. Kawelu dropped two aces, and Masanda had another, all easy points that also served to put a dent in Hilo’s confidence.
The Warriors scored four straight points, including a pair on unforced Hilo errors, to seize a 24-19 lead. Deitch wouldn’t let Hilo go down so easily. He smoked a ball through Kawelu’s hands, but the Viks had a hitting error on game point.
In the fourth set, Maka’ike, a savvy shot-maker, blasted a tool shot off Hilo’s block for a 24-24 tie. If it’s blocked, the Viks force a Game 5. All points are equal but that was the one that secured the match’s momentum.
Then Masanda had a beautiful backset to Chyston Loa, who put the point down for a 25-24 lead. Then Hilo had a hitting error on match point. Hilo had a .193 hitting percentage, Kamehameha was at .178. The Warriors had a monopoly on clutch plays.
“We came roaring back in the fourth set,” Thomas said. “We told the kids we just wanted to stay steady. We have a tendency to be up and down.”
The unexpected win not only denied Hilo its first BIIF D-I title since 1999, but reconfirmed Kamehameha as the league’s most dominant program. It was the school’s 14th straight year in the championship and its 10th title, this the most unlikely one of them all. The Warriors drew the third seed at the HHSAA tournament and will play either Punahou or Castle in the quarterfinals May 2 in Honolulu.
Hilo will host Leilehua at 5 p.m. Monday in a state first-round match.
“A lot of people doubted us. We came in as the underdogs. But we were ready to fight to the end, and we showed it on the court,” said Blake Baclig, a BIIF champion, along with his teammates.