Friday night’s regular season KIF boys basketball finale between the Red Raiders and Warriors was special.
Both teams showed tremendous heart in the 80-78 thriller at Kaua’i High School.
Heading into the game, there was little at stake in the conference standings.
Waimea finished up KIF champs and are headed to the state tournament.
Still though, despite not having much to play for with regards to the state playoffs, both Kaua’i and Kapa’a had motivation.
For the Warriors, there was a chance to finish up the season on a high note. With a win, Kapa’a could claim its first KIF win. For the Red Raiders, finishing strong could fuel the 2004 campaign.
Kaua’i also wanted to give its fans a cheerful sendoff on Valentine’s Day.
The Red Raiders seemed in control early on.
Kaua’i’s inside game led by center Vaafuti Tavana overpowered the Warriors. Tavana scored 17 points in the first quarter, most coming on putbacks and high-percentage shots. For the quarter, Kaua’i totaled 21 points.
Kapa’a kept the game close, though, in totaling 16 points. Kapa’a seemed to get a lot of easy baskets on fast-break chances.
The contest continued to be up-tempo in the second period as both clubs pushed the ball on just about every available chance.
By the end of the first 16 minutes of action, the score was 47-41 Kaua’i. Tavana had 27 points by halftime.
Once the clubs emerged from their lockerrooms, the game became more of a defensive struggle.
It was here that the Red Raiders seemed to gain control. Kapa’a scored just 13 points in the period as its shots weren’t falling and Kaua’i gobbled up just about every rebound.
The Red Raiders opened their biggest lead of the contest heading in to the final eight minutes of the game.
However, just when it looked as though it wouldn’t get back into the contest, Kapa’a fought back.
The Warriors began hitting a majority of their shots, winning the battle of the boards and creating defensive stops at critical junctures.
All in all, the Red Raiders’ margin began dwindling and Kapa’a had hope.
Even Kaua’i’s biggest strength in the game, its inside dominance, began to even out. The Warriors’ Ryan Cram, who was a non-factor in the opening half of action, looked invincible late in the third quarter and into the fourth.
Cram matched Tavana shot for shot late in the game in moving Kapa’a within striking distance of Kaua’i.
Cram scored 20 points in the second half.
Despite Cram’s heroics, the Red Raiders still managed a short lead heading to the final minutes of the contest.
A great deal of Kaua’i’s scoring came at the free-throw line where guard Alec Reichle couldn’t miss. Reichle hit on 10 of his first 10 free throws in the contest, a large majority coming in the second half of play.
The Warriors finally took a brief lead late in the fourth quarter on a steal and subsequent basket.
Kaua’i, however, would not be denied the victory.
Jonathan Smith’s putback on Reichle’s missed free throw with 1.8 seconds remaining was the difference.
In losing, the Warriors showed a high level of competitive spirit while the Red Raiders displayed a never-say-die attitude despite losing a double-digit advantage late in the game.
What a way to end the KIF season.