Pāhoa captures first state championship
• Photo gallery: Boys basketball state DII championship
by Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer
Before the season even started, Pāhoa created a list of goals, one of which was to win the state title.
The Daggers almost didn't clinch a state berth, then almost didn't have enough money to pay for the state trip.
Pāhoa was never fazed through it all. When a seven-point fourth-quarter lead disappeared in last night's title game against Kailua in the Hawaiian Airlines Boys Basketball Division II State Championships, the Daggers remained grounded.
"It's all part of staying focused on the goal the team set forth and they set high goals of winning this Division II championship early on in the season," said first-year Pāhoa coach Eric Yoshimura, whose team beat defending champion Kailua, 41-38, to win the Division II title at the Stan Sheriff Center. "The community stepping up and (us) staying focused and committed."
It is the first state title in a team sport for Pāhoa (9-9), a Big Island school that has about 400 students at the high-school level. Isaiah Ekau had 12 points and 13 rebounds in the win.
"We have a small school, a lot of us play dual sports," said Pāhoa freshman Nick Fisher, who scored 17 points and hit two crucial free throws with 2.7 seconds left. "It's good for our team because our school doesn't really win a lot of stuff. This puts Pāhoa on the map."
The Daggers, the Big Island Interscholastic Federation runner-up needed a buzzer-beating shot to clinch a state berth in the BIIF semifinals. Pāhoa then sold chili, held car washes and asked the community for donations to help the team reach the state tournament.
"It's a really good feeling for us," Fisher said. "We've been through a lot this year."
Kailua (15-5), the O'ahu Interscholastic Association runner-up, trailed by seven midway through the fourth quarter and 37-31 with less than a minute left. But Jordan DeCorte's putback helped the Surfriders close to 39-38 with four seconds left.
Fisher then hit two free-throws with 2.7 seconds remaining. The Surfriders got the ball to Rhys Nakakura, whose attempt from about 30 feet hit the rim's left corner. In the final minute, Nakakura hit a 3 and made two of three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt. He finished with 10 points.
"I wanted him to shoot the ball, he's been our money guy all year," Kailua coach Tim Harrison said.
Pāhoa used an 11-2 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to build its lead in a relatively slow-paced game. The Daggers worked the ball around to draw the defense out and create gaps. Ekau, an athletic 6-foot-1 forward, hit jumpers off the dribble and found his way in traffic in the lane. Late in the fourth, he missed a free-throw attempt, got the ball back from a teammate's rebound, and nailed a jumper from the line.
"I wanted the ball a lot, a lot more than I did in the first half," Ekau said. "They were looking and putting pressure on Nick."
John Byrd scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter for the Daggers, including a 3-pointer and baseline jumper from the leftside.
"They switched their defense to a man so we had mismatches with with me and Byrd, so we just went off on that," Ekau said.
DeCorte finished with 14 points for Kailua, a team that didn't expect to be here because of its youth.
"I'm very proud of them to get here," Harrison said. "We started a great tradition at Kailua and I hope these guys can carry it forward."
Yoshimura reminded his team to remain focused and calm in the game's final minute. After that, it celebrated the goal that almost didn't happen.
"I like to hope it's going to be wide open and rebuild the enthusiasm for Pāhoa basketball," Yoshimura said.