HHSAA Boys Basketball
Kohala to take on University Lab in battle of youth for Division II crown


Thu, Feb 9, 2023 @ Kalani

Final 1 2 3 4  
Hawaii Baptist (11-2, 18-14) 2 10181545
Kohala (12-1, 19-2) 10 15 13 2361
L. Kauka 19 pts  1 3pm  10/14 FTs
E. Shibuya 19 pts  11/14 FTs
N. Reynolds 7 tot  7 def
J. Qin 10 tot  3 off  7 def
L. Kauka 3 ast
S. Lim 3 ast

There's no shortage of youth for both titlists in the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Division II boys basketball championships.

Kohala, who held off Hawaii Baptist in the first semifinal, 61-45, and University Lab, a 56-45 winner over KIF champ Kauai, boast starting lineup that feature just two seniors and one junior between them.

Freshman Layden Kauka had 19 points, six rebounds and seven steals to lead the Cowboys and older brother Landon added 14 points, six rebounds and three steals, matched point for point by the Eagles' Eli Shibuya (19 points, five rebounds) and Matthew Shigetani (14 points, 2 threes).

"Feels good, but this championship game is for our 2020-21 graduates that didn't have their season and last years' season," said Layden Kauka. "I was a manager last year and when they lost (in the semis) it kind of hit me a little bit, and I told the coaches I'll be back here next year."

The Cowboys took a 10-2 first quarter lead over the Eagles, who started slowly and faced an uphill climb the entire game.

Faced with a 13 point deficit at the half, Hawaii Baptist did rally back, getting to within seven late in the third quarter as an Elijah Wong followed his own miss for a layup that made it 37-30.

But free throw shooting was the story in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys shot 72 percent in the final period, hitting 21 of 29 attempts. Sophomore Isaac Libron hit 9 of 12 and Layden Kauka 8 of 10 down the stretch to ice the game.

"Isaac is like an underrated player on this team," remarked Layden Kauka of Libron. "Everyone overlooks him and everyone is focused on me and Landon and that's when he comes out and does his thing."

To say the game was a grind was an understatement, as the teams' combined for 61 personal fouls and  saw three techincal fouls called during the course of the game.

This is the second title game appearance in the last three seasons for the Cowboys.

Greg Yamamoto | SL    Purchase image

Up next for Kohala, is arguably the youngest team in the state, University Lab, who posted a wire-to-wire 56-45 win over Kauai to reach its first championship game since 2016, where it bested Seabury Hall, 46-31.

Freshman Todd McKinney scored 15 points and added 11 boards and two blocks and fellow frosh Trey Ambrozich added 17 points to lead the Jr. Bows, who also got nine points and eight rebounds from Koa Laboy and seven more from Kenna Quitan, also a freshman.

The Jr. Bows raced out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter and built a lead as large 21 in the second quarter before the Red Raiders finally got its feet under them, trimming the lead to 28-13 at the half.

"We knew we had to come out to play, we want to get to championship and their a tough team, so we had to just come out ready," said Ambrozich of the opening scoring run.

A shaky third quarter saw Kauai rally back in a big way, trimming the deficit to single digits at the 1:44 mark on a made basket by Kalaiakea Estaban to make it 33-24, then trailed by just seven on a pair of baskets by Joshua Rego to make it 40-33 with 4:32 left in the game.

On the ensuing possession, Duke Mobley was fouled and hit the first free throw but missed the second, which was snatched on the offensive glass by Ambrozich, who found McKinney set up on the left wing for a huge three that stretched the lead back out to 11 just like that.

"We were getting a little flustered in the third quarter, they were really putting some pressure on us," said Ambrozich. "But we knew we just needed to hit shots and handle the ball well and we'd be fine.

For Kauai, that four point swing was the straw that broke the camels back, and the Jr. Bows hit 9 of 12 free throws down the stretch to put the game out of reach.

"Coaches have been stressing that all season, and last season, we lost on a free throw," remarked Ambrozich, referring to a season ending 30-29 loss to Le Jardin. "So this year its been all about free throws and we've gotten a lot better."

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