LIHUE — The standing-room-only, overflow crowd came to cheer,Thursday night during the Kauai Interscholastic Federation boys basketball games at Kauai High School.
And there was a lot to cheer about, leaving fans milling about the gym long after the final buzzer.
“There is a lot of good energy here tonight,” said Kapaa coach Kamahalo Kauhane following the Warriors’ 50-44 loss to the Red Raiders in the varsity matchup. “This was a positive night for everyone.”
Kapaa got control on a quick 5-0 showing behind Michael Encinas’ bucket and long ball, only to have Kauai answer with a trio of treys from Christopher CJ Cromartie and Kaimani Tecson for a 9-7 bulge at the end of the first quarter.
The lead exchanges overflowed into the second quarter until a Cromartie long ball mid-stanza broke a 13-12 Warrior edge. The bomb from outside the three-point arc was the turning point from which Kauai built its victory.
“This has all the makings of a true championship game,” Kauhane said. “Kauai senior CJ had one heck of a game. This is a great moment for all of their seniors.”
Cromartie, in addition to snaking a good share of boards, topped the Kauai scoring on a game-high 21 points, being followed by Tecson and Ricky Malu Ralston who finished with seven points apiece, and Hunter Yoshioka triggering rousing cheering when he hit the first of his two treys in the final quarter.
“This was the hardest part of the game,” said Kauai coach Ipo Yoshioka. “We had to keep them focused, but still let them enjoy themselves. This is their night.”
Alaka‘i Gonsalves, threading heavy defensive traffic throughout the night, led the Warriors with 21 points, including a late-frame bucket in the first quarter where Kapaa stayed close, 9-7.
Gonsalves got help from Encinas who finished with nine points, and Nathan Gardner netting five second-half points, including a third quarter three-ball.
“We just fell into a little hole,” Kauhane said. “When you’re in the hole, it’s always hard to dig yourselves out. But it was a great game all around.”
But it was not over for the crowd whose cheering resonated through the Raider gym when athletes from the Kauai Special Olympics took the court in the form of green and purple teams for a 10-minute bout during the halftime break.
The cheering reached its crescendo with players from both teams adding their voices following the bout where both side emerged winners and Yoshioka presented the Kauai Special Olympics basketball program with a $500 check that was the result of a fundraising effort by the Kauai High School boys basketball program.
“These athletes practice with us Saturday,” Ipo said. “They’re good people, and we need to support them and their efforts.”
The evening’s highlight came following the final buzzer when Yoshioka introduced the nine seniors who played their final basketball game as Red Raiders — Hunter Yoshioka, Tavita Makana, David Pascua, Tecson, Cromartie, Jayden Felipe Calapatia, Joshua Iwi Rivera, Nehmiah Sanchez, and Gavin Toyofuku.
“I just can’t express how I feel about all these kids, and my coaching staff,” Yoshioka said. “They work hard and are just awesome. We wouldn’t be here without them — the kids, the staff, and our school — just awesome.”
The KIF wraps up its season Saturday when Kapaa honors its two seniors when the Warriors host Waimea at the Bernice Hundley Gym. The JV game tips off at 5:30 p.m. followed by the varsity contest.
For Kauai High School, the Red Raiders prepare to represent the KIF at the 2019 Snapple Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II boys basketball championships when play starts Feb. 21 through 23 on Oahu.
Earlier in the evening, Kauai junior varsity’s Xaerys Dela Cruz and Doza Kaleiohi Ellsworth combined for 20 points to hold on for a 29-27 defensive slugfest against a tenacious JV Warrior teamled by Akela Nu‘uhiwa-Gonda’s game-high 15 points.
The Kauai victory gives the JV crown to the Red Raiders with a one-loss record.
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or email@example.com.