Back in the day, Baldwin won MIL boys basketball championships regularly.
Just like Jon Garcia’s high-post screen offense with its cutters and precision and repetition, the Bears were always there at state tournament time.
It was more of the same with Garcia’s predecessor, Wayne Gushiken, but over time, he also retired. Now, the Bears are in juggernaut mode with a faster pace, a different offense and a fullcourt identity. Coach Cody Tesoro, who was a standout guard during the Garcia/Gushiken era, hasn’t forgotten that old-school high-post offense staple.
“They had a system, but the game changed and when I took over, we had to change our style of play, so to speak,” Tesoro said. “With the players we have, we want to get shots up. We want to get them the ball. That’s when we’re successful, when the tempo’s up and we’re getting shots up.”
He just keeps it in his back pocket like a prized photo of yesteryear. On Thursday, Tesoro’s squad of skill and giants — the starting front court goes 6 feet, 7 inches, 6-7 and 6-6 — overcame a 17-4 deficit to edge OIA runner-up Kailua, 60-57, in a thriller at Moanalua gym.
The fourth-seeded Bears will face top seed Saint Louis on Friday night at Moanalua in the semifinals of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships.
Hudson Yarbrough, who knocked down six free throws in a row during a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter, finished with 22 points. Baldwin’s other 6-7 playmaker, Quintan Akaka, raced up and down the floor with speedsters a foot shorter, and finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Avery Pauole, a 6-6 junior, hustled for nine points and nine boards.
It took while for the MIL champions to get the motor going. By the end, Akaka had two dunks in transition and Pauole had another. Yarbrough did much of his work from mid-range, showcasing a smooth release with solid footwork.
When it was a 13-point deficit, the Bears did not look right. At all.
“Pretty much everybody. We needed to communicate to each other and get everyone on the right track,” Pauole said.
“We weren’t trying hard enough. We were losing the ball. We were nervous. Everyone was nervous,” Yarbrough added.
Akaka was nervous, too.
“Yup. I had the jitters,” he said.
“We just played through it and we came back,” Yarbrough said.
Coach Tesoro knew it was a matter of time.
“(Yarbrough and Pauole) were on the state-tournament team two years ago when we came, but their minutes weren’t as heavy as they are now. It was expected. Kailua came out, they played a game already (on Monday) so they had their feet wet already,” Tesoro said. “Our motto’s been, ‘stay together.’ We’ve had some games when we were down. We were down eight in the third quarter in the (MIL) championship game. They know what it feels like and they were able to stay disciplined, stick to what we know and get a win.”
Baldwin went on a 35-11 run that featured 3-pointers, fastbreak dishes between Akaka and Yarbrough, and solid post buckets from Pauole.
Akaka is a key part of the Baldwin press breaker, which solved Kailua’s fullcourt pressure in the second quarter.
“Our shooters got us back in the game,” Pauole said.
Yarbrough hit a 3 during the comeback, while Kobe Gonzales hit two crucial treys. After Trotter Apo banked in a wing 3, Baldwin finally had the lead late in the second quarter, 30-28.
From there, it was an avalanche by the team in white, sky blue and maroon. The lead ballooned to 50-36 before Kailua made a final run. The Surfriders got within 56-50 in the final two minutes.
“We didn’t need to take forced shots. Just get inside and bring it back out, hold it and let them foul you,” Yarbrough said.
“It’s good to get that first game out of the way. We’re taking this one game at a time,” Akaka said.
The Bears can play halfcourt, prefer to press full court, and they do it with their bigs actively involved.
“These guys are in shape and they work. The three (bigs) are workhorses, and the guards work, too. They feed off the guards, the guards feed off the bigs, and it just works,” Tesoro said.
Akaka’s rangy, coast-to-coast athleticism is more common in players six inches shorter.
“Quintan has post moves, Avery has post moves and an outside game. Hudson has an outside game and an inside game. It’s a luxury to have as a coach. I’m real fortunate that we have that, and those three work hard,” he added.
Tesoro is looking for a stronger finish when Baldwin (9-4) overall) meets Saint Louis. The Bears had 14 turnovers, a bit lower than their average of 17 per game.
“That’s not acceptable for us, so hopefully we can take care of business and take care of the ball. That ball is precious,” Tesoro said. “We celebrated this win, but it wasn’t a good way to close a game. Hopefully, we close it out better.”
There has been a bit of a murmur since the emergence of Maui Prep, the MIL’s Division II champion. Baldwin’s schedule was clogged up late in the season, but MPA’s league schedule had plenty of space. A matchup between the two programs would have been nice. Maybe epic.
Most observers believe a fully-loaded Baldwin roster — there were plenty of protocols earlier in the season — would be too strong for Maui Prep. Maybe 30 points too strong.
“Oh yeah,” Pauole and Yarbrough said in agreement.
“But Maui Prep’s a good team,” Akaka said.
“Yeah, they’re good. They’re the best D-II team in the state,” Yarbrough said.
Tesoro gives his players plenty of space.
“I’m tremendously happy for these kids. Happy, excited. One thing I learned from my college coach (Larry Doty at Linfield), enjoy the moment for five minutes and move on to the next,” he said. “I credit my coaching staff. They’re in my ear all the time. The players put forth the effort. It’s just a good team win. We’re looking forward to tomorrow night.”
When the Bears arrive at Moanalua gym on Friday, they’ll be wearing special shooting shirts with “MM42” on the left shoulder. Mafatini Mafatini, who played on the 2020 Bears team, died recently in an accident on the mainland.
“It’s in memory of Mafatini,” Tesoro said.