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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2010

‘Heart and soul’ lifts Pähoa to school first

by Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Isaiah Ekau was “a coach’s dream,” according to Pähoa’s Eric Yoshimura.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Pāhoa won one for the school and for the community.

With Isaiah Ekau carrying the team through an improbable and surprising run, Pāhoa beat Kailua, 41-38, to win the Hawaiian Airlines Boys Basketball Division II State Championships on Saturday for the school's first state title in a team sport.

"It means a lot, puts us on the map," said Ekau, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Pāhoa (9-9), the Big Island Interscholastic Federation runner-up that has about 400 students at the high-school level, shocked top-seeded Roosevelt in Thursday's quarterfinals when Ekau, a 6-foot-1 senior forward, poured in 31 points. He had 18 points in a semifinal win over Kapa'a and 12 points and 13 rebounds against Kailua.

"Isaiah is the heart and soul of the team," first-year Pāhoa coach Eric Yoshimura said. "He's an excellent leader, he's grown and matured immensely as a player and as an individual. He's a coach's dream."

The Daggers received a big greeting upon their return to Hilo International Airport Sunday morning. A fire truck blasted arches of water over the plane as it taxied on the runway. Hawai'i County Mayor Billy Kenoi greeted the team, along with fans, and read a proclamation declaring March 7 as Pāhoa High School Day.

Pāhoa needed the community's help to reach its dream of winning the state title and never lost sight of that. It qualified for the state tournament after Ekau made a buzzer-beating layup in the BIIF semifinals against Kohala, then spent a week holding fundraisers and asking for donations to raise enough funds to pay for the trip.

"On behalf of the team, we'd like to thank the school's support and the Big Island community for making this possible," Yoshimura said.

Ekau drew a double team throughout the season, but the Daggers relied on patience and ball movement to create opportunities for themselves and Ekau, who could hit jumpers off the dribble and power his way inside.

"Basically it's a team game, so if Isaiah is going to be defended much more, double teams, other players will need to step up and create other things and take pressure off Isaiah," Yoshimura said. "Nick Fisher, John Byrd stepped up. Basically ball movement and try to move the defense and look into Isaiah."

Fisher, a freshman who was named to the all-tournament team, had a game-high 17 points in the win over Kailua. Byrd scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter when the Daggers built a seven-point lead.

"John Byrd, Isaiah Ekau and Hamlet Walsh, those seniors have been big all season," said Fisher, who wanted to win the state title for the senior class.