There are lows and there are highs, near and far.
The Konawaena Wildcats know this. On Saturday night, the Wildcats made the 112-mile trek from Kealakekua to the Afook-Chinen Hilo Civic Auditorium for the BIIF boys basketball championship game. Down most of the night, they rallied to take a three-point lead against the Waiakea Warriors. Konawaena, the regular-season first-place team, was unable to hold on. Calvin Mattos hit a clutch 3 and Kiai Apele stole the ensuing inbounds pass for the game-winning bucket as Waiakea stunned Konawaena.
The 112-mile drive home in the late night is like nothing else in Hawaii, especially after a loss like that.
Less than 48 hours later, the young Wildcats (10-1 BIIF) faced Kailua and pulled out a signature win, beating Kailua 68-55 in the opening round of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball Division I State Championships. Without center Christian Mejia, who suffered an ankle injury in the OIA third-place game, the Surfriders’ front court combined for nine points.
Konawaena, a team that loves to run and press, led most of the way. And just like that, the heartbreak of Saturday was washed away by the ecstasy of beating one of the state’s best teams.
“This kind of wipes out that loss. Now we really earned the right to go to states,” Konawaena coach Donald Awa said.
With the journey to Oahu comes a quarterfinal matchup with ILH champion Punahou. The Buffanblu and Wildcats meet at Radford in a 7 p.m. matchup.
“Punahou is just like us. They run that 1-2-1-1 press and get up in your face with that man defense,” Awa said. “We’re very similar.”
The Buffanblu have all the components of a breakneck fastbreak unit, but have learned to play slower, grind-out games in the ILH.
“With the pace, I’m going to have to use my bench and go four or five deep,” Awa added.
Konawaena has seen plenty of slower games after seeing plenty of zone during the BIIF season. Punahou may not have used a halfcourt zone all season. That suits Konawaena, even if they’re the smaller and less experienced team tonight.
“We know it comes down to being patient. When they come out after us in man, on the Big Island, nobody could stop us,” Awa said.
One of the key matchups on the floor will be Konawaena strategy for Punahou’s leading scorer, senior guard Chris Kobayashi.
“Our best defender is (Hauoli) Akau,” Awa said.
Austin Aukai (25 points), Austin Ewing (16) and Kamakana Ching (10) played big roles in the win over Kailua. With someone like Ching, a 6-foot senior who was also a wide receiver standout on the football team, Konawaena may have a stretch 5 who can test Punahou’s big posts.