WAIMEA – In the end, it was hard for Waiakea’s Kiai Apele to leave the rock.
But it’s never hard for him to pass it.
The senior point guard was his usual facilitating self Saturday night in front of a charged up crowd at Hawaii Prep’s Castle Gym, and he also delivered one of the biggest shots of a cross-divisional battle of defending BIIF boys basketball championships that was full of drama. Apele drained a 3-pointer to put the Warriors ahead in overtime and finished with 15 points to hold off Ka Makani, 49-46.
“If you can win a game at HPA,” Waiakea coach Paul Lee said, “you’re doing something good.”
Ka Makani (9-1) went on a 10-3 run late in regulation in its latest close call and looked poised to extend its BIIF winning streak to 26 games before the Warriors’ Elijah Blankenship put back his own miss with 4.2 seconds remaining to force OT.
“This game could have gone either way, and we’ve been pretty fortunate the past couple of years,” HPA coach Fred Wawner said. “This is what happens. Our style is to play these type of games, so were comfortable with them. But you’re also going to lose some.”
After missing a game-winning shot at the buzzer of regulation and a 3-pointer to tie at the end of OT, HPA’s loss – its first since the end of the 2018 regular season – leaves Kohala as the lone BIIF unbeaten. And the Cowboys play both of these teams this week as the regular season comes to a close.
If Saturday night’s game was a preview of things to come, everyone is in for a treat.
“The atmosphere made it feel like a BIIF championship game,” said Apele, who is the UH-Hilo basketball team’s latest signee.
With Ka Makani’s student body causing a raucous in one corner of the gym, Apele and Lee echoed the same sentiment: I wish our fans were like this.
“HPA has the best fan base on this island,” Apele said. “They don’t have much to do up here. Best fans, one of the best coaches, real fundamental.”
“Our game (at) Kohala on (Feb. 1) is going to be a BIIF championship game, too,” he said. “Great fan base, great community.”
Makana Kaehuaea-Credo scored 10 points, including a basket inside to stretch Waiakea’s lead to 47-44 in the overtime.
After KJ Walker answered with a driving layup at the other end, Keegan Scanlan hit two free throws for the Warriors (9-1), who can clinch an the outright Division I regular season championship and an automatic berth to the state tournament with a win Monday against winless St. Joseph at UHH’s gym.
“When Kiai gets the guys going early, we have a little more success with our offense,” Lee said, “and then we get more energy our on defensive side. Kiai did a really good job of getting everybody involved.”
The Warriors were still smarting from the 78-69 loss Hilo handed to them Monday on their home court. Their defensive effort Saturday was a welcome one, Apele said.
“We kind of still proved that we can play defense at a good level,” he said. “This was a bounce back game.”
Walker led HPA with 16 points, Michael Hughes scored 11 and Tre Walker had 10.
KJ Walker’s basket cut HPA’s deficit to 37-34 in the fourth quarter. After Apele fed Blankenship for a basket inside, Tre Walker hit consecutive 3-pointers, with a Blankenship free throw sandwiched in between, leaving the game tied 40-40.
A Hughes breakaway layup after a steal put HPA in front but Blankenship grabbed two rebounds on the Warriors’ final possession of regulation to extend the game four more minutes.
HPA plays at Honokaa on Monday night before the Cowboys visit Thursday in matchup that will help decide the top seed in Division II. Kohala was on hand to scout both teams Saturday, prompting Wawner to joke that he tried to kick them out.
“Now it’s about staying together to make sure Waiakea doesn’t beat us twice,” Wawner said.
It was a eventful week for Apele.
On Jan. 25, he signed his letter of intent to play for the Vulcans, becoming one of the few BIIF players in recent times to be able to pursue an opportunity in NCAA Division II.
“I love UH-Hilo, it was a big dream,” Apele said.
The reigning BIIF D-I player of the year said he’s a team manager at UHH as sixth-grader, and he’s a big fan of GE Coleman.
“He told me to get stronger and always try to improve,” the 5-foot-11 Apele said.
In a UHH release, Coleman said, “”Kiai has had a very good four years at Waiakea. He has continued to improve under Coach Lee. We look forward to Kiai being a part of our program and to continue to see his growth as a player.”
When Apele was reminded that many Big Islanders grow up ready to leave, he said, “It’s hard to leave the rock. It’s hard to leave the 808.”